World billionaire wealth surges to record high $12.6 trillion

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2,158 billionaires (including 199 new self-made billionaires) grew their combined wealth to more than the GDP of Australia or Spain, and researchers also found a growing trend towards "business families" preserving and growing inherited wealth. There are fewer billionaires in Britain but their accumulated wealth has soared to more than £200 billion. But this is just the beginning.

Their collective wealth increased by 19 percent to the staggering total of $8.9 trillion (€7.83 trillion), led by growth in China.

Currently, there are 2,158 billionaires.

While the USA holds the largest concentration of billionaire wealth, China is quickly catching up, and the APAC region could soon surpass the Americas.

In 2006, the Chinese had 16 billionaires, with the command economy still entrenched.

This year's survey, based on interviews and financial data, widened its scope to include 2158 individuals from 43 countries, compared to 1550 billionaires from 14 countries cited in last year's report.

"In a landmark year, the number of Asian billionaires on our database exceeded U.S billionaires for the first time", the report said.

One Chinese billionaire told the researchers: "Nowhere else in the world can you find better conditions for growth than in China".

The report said billionaires have a "transformative" effect on the world, having driven 80 per cent of the 40 main breakthrough innovations in the last 40 years.

It's exactly that kind of ingenuity that has helped the world's most populous nation churn out new billionaires at a prodigious clip, according to John Mathews, head of ultra-high net worth in the Americas for UBS Group AG.

About 97% of Chinese billionaires are considered self-made, and, at 56 years old on average, they're about a decade younger than their North American counterparts. This year, however, has seen stock markets decline worldwide over interest rate increases in the US and emerging market volatility, only to be exacerbated by tensions surrounding the US-China trade war. Using the advantages of a top-tier university education and a global network, they often create their own new businesses combining latest technology with sustainability goals. The younger billionaires are expected to drive the growth in philanthropy and sustainable investing; 38 per cent of family offices are now engaged in sustainable investing; 45 per cent aim to step this up over the next 12 months.

But Chinese billionaires expanded their wealth at almost double that pace, growing by 39 percent to $1.12 trillion.

Billionaires are richer than before too, with their average net-worth sitting at $4 billion.