'Richcession' hits as 3.5 million millionaires lost their status last year

Global wealth fell for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis last year, according to a major report.

In the 14th Global Wealth Report, Swiss banking giants UBS and Credit Suisse—the latter of which is now a subsidiary of the former—said $11.3 trillion of private wealth was lost in 2022, bringing the total held around the world down to $454 trillion.

The report’s authors analyzed the estimated wealth changes of 5.4 billion global adults in 2022, detailing fluctuations across different wealth levels.

According to the report, global wealth per adult declined by 3.6%—or $3,198—to reach $84,718 by the end of the year.

Much of the decline came from the appreciation of the dollar combined with turbulent financial markets, with equities taking their worst battering last year since the 2008 financial crisis.

As a result, 3.5 million people around the world lost their millionaire status last year, the report found—with around half of those losing that prestige being based in the United States.

However, it wasn’t bad news all around.

The global median wealth —which was described as “a more meaningful indicator of how the typical person is faring”—jumped 3% in 2022.

That means that while overall wealth tumbled, the average person was better off by the end of the year.

The phenomenon —where society’s most affluent suffer economically while those further down the wealth scale are less impacted or find themselves better off—is known colloquially as a “richcession,” and it’s something some market watchers have been forecasting for a while.

An American ‘richcession’?

When it came to individual countries, the U.S. suffered the highest overall wealth loss in 2022, according to the report.

The country shed $5.9 trillion of its privately held wealth last year, compared to a gain of $19.5 trillion a year earlier.

The report’s authors described the American wealth loss as “the first break in a remarkable sequence of gains dating back to the global financial crisis.”

However, the report’s findings suggested that the losses were substantially more notable at the top end of America’s wealth scale.

While the U.S. economy remained resilient last year thanks to strong consumer spending and a robust labor market, wealthy investors were hit by a major stock market selloff as white-collar workers were hit by mass layoffs.

Although almost 1.8 million Americans lost their millionaire status in 2022, the report found that median wealth per adult rose by $14,460 to $107,740 – suggesting improved financial circumstances for a typical American.

In an analysis of 20 wealthy countries included in the report, the U.S. was one of only five nations that saw median wealth per adult increase last year.

The country’s ultra-wealthy also felt more of the pain from America’s private wealth losses last year than those with lower net worths.

In 2022, the U.S. lost 17,260 ultra-high net worth individuals—classed as those with a net worth above $50 million—which was more than any other country.

Overall, America’s wealthiest individuals saw their share of the country’s wealth contract, while the bottom 50% saw their slice of national wealth get bigger.

Meanwhile, as America’s older generations—those born before 1946 up until 1980—saw their wealth decline across the board in 2022, millennials’ wealth rose by more than 5% last year, the report’s figures showed.

Baby Boomers—defined by the report as anyone aged 59 to 77 in 2023—typically hold more wealth than their younger counterparts.

American wealth plummetsand Russians get richer

The loss of global wealth was heavily concentrated in wealthier regions, UBS and Credit Suisse found, with North America and Europe shedding a collective $10.9 trillion.

In comparison, Asia Pacific recorded losses of $2.1 trillion, while Latin America – helped by an average currency appreciation of 6% against the greenback – enjoyed a private wealth increase of 2.4 trillion.

After the U.S., Japan, China, Canada and Australia rounded out the five countries that took the biggest blow to private wealth last year.

At the other end of the scale, Russia saw one of the greatest wealth increases in the world – despite being slapped with a wave of international trade sanctions as a result of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Last year, data suggested that Russia’s wealthiest oligarchs had collectively lost tens of millions of dollars as a direct result of the sanctions, while President Vladimir Putin admitted earlier this year that the sanctions could hurt his country’s economy.

However, the Global Wealth Report’s figures told another story: Russian wealth rose by $600 billion in 2022, it said, with the country gaining 56,000 millionaires last year and seeing its number of ultra-high net worth individuals increase.

Apart from Russia, Mexico, India and Brazil were the countries that saw the biggest boosts in wealth last year, UBS and Credit Suisse’s report said.

While the impact of last year’s financial volatility impacted some demographics more than others last year, Credit Suisse strategists were optimistic about the future of wealth.

Nannette Hechler-Fayd’herbe, the bank’s chief investment officer for EMEA and global head of economics and research, and Richard Kersley, managing director of EMEA securities research, said in the report that Credit Suisse’s projections showed global wealth would increase by 38% over the next five years.

“Growth by middle-income countries will be the primary driver of global trends,” they said. “We estimate wealth per adult to reach $110,270 in 2027 and the number of millionaires to reach 86 million, while the number of ultra-high-net-worth individuals is likely to rise to 372,000 individuals.”

In 2022, there were 59.4 dollar millionaires around the world, according to the Global Wealth Report, and 243,060 ultra-high net worth individuals.

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