Billionaires’ Wealth Falls for First Time in Three Years

If Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders have their way, this will be the start of a trend

The richest people in the world saw their wealth decline in 2018 for the first time in three years. According to the UBS/PwC Billionaires’ Report, the selective class of billionaires saw their global wealth fall by $388 billion. Today, they control about $8.54 trillion in global wealth.

The largest correction came in Asia. After five years in which billionaire-wealth nearly quadrupled, a pullback seemed inevitable.

“The billionaire boom of the past five years has now undergone a natural correction,” said Josef Stadler, Head of Ultra High Net Worth at UBS Global Wealth Management. “The stronger dollar, combined with greater uncertainty in equity markets amidst a tough geopolitical environment, has created the conditions for this dip.”

Report on the Richest People in the World

Despite the downturn in wealth in 2018, the richest people in the world are still doing well. American billionaires have seen their net worth grow by 34.5% over the previous five years. Total wealth clocked in at $2.2 trillion, according to the report. The U.S. added 33 new billionaires last year. Technology fueled the uptick in newly minted wealth. Also, the report showed that the number of female billionaires increased by 46% over the last five years.

Billionaire-Run Companies Do Better

Meanwhile, the report showed that firms run by billionaires generate better performance. Over the 15 years to the end of 2018, billionaire-controlled companies listed on the equity market returned 17.8%. That figure easily beats the average return of 9.1% from the MSCI AC World Index.

‘Nevertheless, it’s clear that billionaire businesses continue to thrive,” said Stadler. “Billionaires are creating and steering businesses that consistently outperform equity markets. This business acumen has also translated into their philanthropy, as billionaires seek new ways to engineer far-reaching environmental and social change. This ‘Billionaire Effect’ is alive and well across the world – and shows little sign of slowing.”

UBS Defends Billionaires to Financial Times

The release of the report coincides with statements from Stadler on the demonization of billionaires in recent years. Democratic candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders have raised questions about the moral and ethical existence of extreme wealth. However, Stadler told the Financial Times on Friday that “bias in the media” has fueled the outrage as well.

“In the talk of inequality, the debate that they are too greedy, that they make too much money on the back of poor people,” he said in an interview. “The data tells me that the debate is one-sided and it’s a pity. There is a natural tendency today to be critical when it comes to wealth accumulation. There is sometimes a fear that there is a new aristocracy coming.”

UBS has faced stiff fines for helping rich clients evade taxes. Earlier this year, a French court slapped the bank with a fine of 4.5 billion euros ($5.1 billion). UBS is appealing the case.

Related: McKinsey: North American AUM Hit $43 Trillion Last Year

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