Top billionaires in the world see their wealth drop

09 December 2019 5 min. read

The number of billionaires globally has dropped for the first time since 2015, as equity markets around the world suffered their worst correction since the 2008 financial crisis and a strong dollar impacted the assets of billionaires across the globe.

Data sourced from investment bank UBS and consulting firm PwC shows that billionaires’ net worth fell by 4.3% year-on-year in 2018, or $388 billion, to $8.5 trillion. This wealth is shared by an elite group of 2,101 billionaires, with the number of billionaires down by 57, or 2.6%, on the year previous.

However, over a five-year period, billionaires have continued to perform strongly. At the end of 2018, their aggregate wealth was over a third (35%), amounting to $2.2 trillion, higher than five years earlier. Riding on the wave of the super-rich, 589 individuals became billionaires for the first time in this period, increasing the billionaire population by 3%.Number of billionaires worldwide Slowing growth in major economies China and India, geopolitical tensions and rising US interest rates meant that billionaire wealth fell most sharply in the APAC region. Wealth in APAC ended 2018 at $2.5 trillion, down $218 billion on the year previous, with the number of billionaires down by 7% to 754. But that number masked considerable churn, as 169 people fell off the billionaire list and 110 new entrants emerged.

Especially sharp falls in wealth were noted in China and India. In China, net worth corrected by 12.3% (in USD), although roughly half of the decline was due to the depreciation of the Chinese yuan against the US dollar (by around 6%), as currency markets fretted about the possible impact of deglobalisation.

For the Chinese however, 2018 was just a bump in the road. China’s entrepreneurs have in recent years quickly risen to become the world’s second largest billionaire group, overtaking Russia. At the end of 2018, China was home to almost an eighth of all billionaires’ wealth worldwide.

Billionaires in Europe, Middle East and Africa saw their wealth fall by 7%, roughly twice the 3.5% currency depreciation of the euro versus the US dollar. Wealth shrank by $175 billion to $2.4 trillion. The number of billionaires declined by 31, or 5%, to just under 600.Total wealth of billionaires by regionOnly the Americas managed to buck the global trend, lifted by the fortunes of US tech entrepreneurs – there were 89 US tech billionaires at the end of 2018, up from 70 in 2017. Billionaire wealth was broadly flat, with a marginal 0.1% increase of $4.4 billion to leave total wealth at $3.6 trillion. Across the Americas, the net number of billionaires rose by 33, or 5%, to stand at 749 by the year's end. 

Tech billionaires

Unsurprisingly, the technology sector is the top grooming ground for billionaires. By the end of 2018, tech billionaires’ assets totaled $1.3 trillion. Their net wealth has almost doubled over five years, growing by 91%, and as a result tech billionaires have driven almost a third of the growth in total billionaire wealth, with US tech billionaires accounting for more than half of that growth.

Software, internet, and electronic equipment billionaires account for 62% of tech wealth, followed by rich owners in the internet information provider and e-commerce segments. New tech billionaires are emerging in sectors such as financial technology (fintech) and multimedia.

From a regional perspective, ten of the world’s top 20 tech billionaires are from the US (for example: Travis Kalanick, the founder of Uber; and Airbnb co-founders Nathan Blecharczyk, Joe Gebbia, and Brian Chesky), and four are from China (including Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, and Zhang Yiming, the founder of ByteDance). The others come from Germany, India, and Japan, with each home to two of the top 20. 

The rise of female billionaires

Female billionaires

Women are joining the ranks of billionaires in greater numbers, even edging ahead of growth of male billionaires. Their number has grown by 46% in five years, from 160 to 233, as businesswomen have become increasingly successful. By comparison, the number of male billionaires has expanded more slowly by a lower 39%. Female billionaires’ assets have expanded by over a quarter (26%) to $871.2 billion, lifted mainly by progress in Asia. 

Four in 10 of 2018’s self-made female billionaires built businesses in the consumer and retail sector. For instance, business partners Li Haiyan and Shu Ping became billionaires after the 2018 IPO of their Haidilao hotpot restaurant chain, which is expanding outside China. In the US, Anastasia Soare, a Romanian-American businesswoman who founded the beauty brand Anastasia Beverly Hills, became a billionaire. Additionally, in Russia, Tatyana Bakalchuk, a former English teacher and mother of four, became a billionaire. While on maternity leave in 2004, she founded Wildberries, which has since become Russia’s largest online retailer.

According to Oxfam, the 26 richest billionaires of the world – including the likes of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and investor Warren Buffett – have as much financial wealth as the combined wealth of the poorest 50% of the entire globe: a staggering 3.8 billion people.