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New York eclipsed as city with most extremely wealthy people

September 4, 2018 at 4:01 PM

People walk past a bank electronic board showing the Hong Kong share index at Hong Kong Stock Exchange last month. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Hong Kong is now home to more extremely rich people than any other city in the world, surpassing New York City as the rapidly growing Chinese economy mints a new class of financial elites in the east, according to a new report.

The east Asian city has more than 10,000 residents who each control at least $30 million — about a 31 percent jump from 2016 to 2017, according to Wealth-X, a research firm that studies the world’s wealthiest people.

The number of ultrawealthy people in New York City increased to about 9,000 residents over that same period, a seven percent jump. But Hong Kong leapfrogged the Big Apple primarily because of the rapid growth in stock markets throughout much of Asia, particularly China’s Shenzhen Stock Exchange. Investors and executives in Hong Kong have extensive business ties to mainland China, where the amount of wealth overall grew by more than 30 percent, the report found.

“Hong Kong overtaking New York is not about New York losing its shine,” said Vincent White, co-author of the report. “It’s that Hong Kong has grown fantastically, powered by a tremendous stock market performance.”

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The ranks of the world's phenomenally wealthy ballooned in 2017, as the number of people with more than $30 million expanded to 256,000, a 13 percent jump from the previous year. (Their numbers grew by 3.5 percent in 2016.) The ultrawealthy represent 0.003 percent of the world's population but collectively control 11 percent of its wealth.

Overall, the United States still boasts many more billionaires and multimillionaires than do mainland China and Hong Kong combined, with about 80,000 Americans holding net worth over $30 million, compared with about 17,000 people in mainland China and 10,000 people in Hong Kong who cross that threshold. Japan, at 18,000 people holding net worth over $30 million, is home to the second-highest number of ultrawealthy people by country.

Of the 10 cities with the most ultrawealthy people, five of them — New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. — are in America, according to the Wealth-X report.

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The American economy also remains larger than any in Asia, with the nation’s gross domestic product totaling $20 trillion, compared to the approximately $12 trillion economy of China, the biggest in the east.

No city in mainland China cracks the top 10 for containing the most ultrawealthy people. But the recent pace of wealth creation in Asia is striking. Of the 30 cities with the fastest-growing numbers of super-rich people, 26 of them are in China, according to Wealth-X. Only three are in the United States. (The fourth is Dublin.)

The Chinese economy has grown by more than six percent in recent years, compared to a growth rate of around two percent in the United States. Retail sales in China earlier this year eclipsed those in the United States. And over the last decade, China's per capita income has more than quadrupled.

All of those factors have contributed to the meteoric rise in Chinese enterprises, creating a new crop of very rich people both in the mainland and in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous city with rights that the rest of China does not enjoy.

“The Chinese workforce is bigger and more educated than ever before, and it’s been a huge boost to their economy,” said Maeen Shaban, a senior analyst at the Wealth-X Institute. “And Hong Kong is the main financial hub connecting this Chinese market to the rest of Asian and southeast Asia.”

The number of ultrawealthy individuals soared by 14 percent in mainland China from 2016 to 2017, compared to an increase of nine percent in the United States. The ranks of the ultrarich have also increased by double-digits over the last five years in quickly growing southeast Asian countries, such as Bangladesh, India and Vietnam.

The fortunes of the rich can swing dramatically depending on stock performances, with headlines from July noting that Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg lost about $16 billion in one day. But cumulatively, the researchers said, the data is clear that the number of ultrawealthy people is increasing very quickly, very fast.


Jeff Stein is a policy reporter for The Washington Post. Before joining The Post, Stein was a congressional reporter for Vox, where he wrote primarily about the Democratic Party and the left. In 2014, he founded the local news nonprofit the Ithaca Voice in Upstate New York.

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