Last updated: 01:53 / Thursday, 1 July 2021
A report by Credit Suisse

Global Wealth Creation Was Largely Immune to the Pandemic Shock in 2020

  • In 2020, total global wealth grew by 7.4% and wealth per adult rose by 6% to reach another record high of 79,952 dollars
  • Total debt also increased by 7.5%, rising markedly in China and Europe, but declining in Africa and in Latin America
  • Wealth differences between adults widened in 2020: the global number of millionaires expanded by 5.2 million to reach 56.1 million
  • The ultra high net worth (UHNW) group grew even faster, adding 24% more members, the highest rate of increase since 2003
  • Global wealth is projected to rise by 39% over the next five years, reaching 583 trillion dollars by 2025

Wealth creation in 2020 was largely immune to the challenges facing the world due to the actions taken by governments and central banks to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19. This is the main conclusion of the twelfth "Global Wealth Report" recently published by Credit Suisse Research Institute.

The analysis shows that total global wealth grew by 7.4% and wealth per adult rose by 6% to reach another record high of 79,952 dollars. Meanwhile, aggregate global wealth rose by 28.7 trillion dollars to reach 418.3 trillion at the end of the year. However, widespread depreciation of the US dollar accounted for 3.3 percentage points of the growth. If exchange rates had remained the same as in 2019, total wealth would have grown by 4.1% and wealth per adult by 2.7%.

The research institute points out that overall, the countries most affected by the pandemic "have not fared worse in terms of wealth creation". In this sense, the pandemic had a profound short-term impact on global markets in the first quarter of 2020: the report estimates that 17.5 trillion dollars was lost from total global household wealth between January and March 2020, equivalent to a fall of 4.4%.

However, this was largely reversed by the end of June. "Surprisingly, in the second half of 2020 share prices continued on an upward path, reaching record levels by the end of the year. Housing markets also benefitted from the prevailing optimism as house prices rose at rates not seen for many years. The net result was that 28.7 trillion was added to global household wealth during the year", highlights the analysis.

“The pandemic had an acute short term impact on global markets but this was largely reversed by the end of June 2020. As we noted last year, global wealth not only held steady in the face of such turmoil but in fact rapidly increased in the second half of the year. Indeed wealth creation in 2020 appears to have been completely detached from the economic woes resulting from COVID-19", said Anthony Shorrocks, economist and report author.

Mapa mundial de la riqueza

The regional breakdown shows that total wealth rose by 12.4 trillion dollars in North America and by 9.2 trillion in Europe. These two regions accounted for the bulk of the wealth gains in 2020, with China adding another 4.2 trillion and the Asia-Pacific region (excluding China and India) another 4.7 trillion.

Another key finding of the report is that India and Latin America both recorded losses in 2020. In this sense, total wealth fell in India by 594 billion dollars, or 4.4% in percentage terms. This loss was amplified by exchange rate depreciation: at fixed exchange rates, the loss would have been 2.1%. Latin America appears to have been the worst performing region, with total wealth dropping by 11.4% or 1.2 trillion.

Ricos por países

Meanwhile, total debt also increased by 7.5% and the report points out that it would likely have increased much more if households had not been obliged to save more by the constraints on spending. Specifically, it rose markedly in China and Europe, but declined in Africa and in Latin America, even after allowance is made for exchange rate depreciation.

"Windfalls from unplanned savings and prevailing low interest rates saw a revival in housing markets during the second half of 2020. The net result was a better-than-average year for homeowners in most countries", it adds.

Global wealth levels in 2020

Wealth impacts of the pandemic have differed among population subgroups due to two main factors: portfolio composition and income shocks. The wealth of those with a higher share of equities among their assets, e.g. late middle age individuals, men, and wealthier groups in general, tended to fare better. Homeowners in most markets have seen capital gains due to rising house prices.

"If asset price increases are set aside, then global household wealth may well have fallen. In the lower wealth bands where financial assets are less prevalent, wealth has tended to stand still, or, in many cases, regressed. Some of the underlying factors may self-correct over time. For example, interest rates will begin to rise again at some point, and this will dampen asset prices", Shorrocks commented.

The report also shows that there have been large differences in income shocks during the pandemic. In many high income countries the loss of labor or business income was softened by emergency benefits and employment policies. In countries with an absence of income support, vulnerable groups like women, minorities and young people were particularly affected

Also, female workers initially suffered disproportionately from the pandemic, partly because of their high representation in businesses and industries badly affected by the pandemic, such as restaurants, hotels, personal service and retail. "Labor force participation declined over the course of 2020 for both men and women, but the size of the decline was similar, at least in most advanced economies", it adds.

Wealth distribution and the outlook

Wealth differences between adults widened in 2020. The global number of millionaires expanded by 5.2 million to reach 56.1 million. As a result, an adult now needs more than 1 million dollars to belong to the global top 1%. A year ago, the requirement for a top 1% membership was 988,103 dollars. So, as Credit Suisse Research Institute highlights, 2020 marks the year when for the first time, more than one percent of all global adults are in nominal terms dollar millionaires.

Besides, the ultra high net worth (UHNW) group grew even faster, adding 24% more members, the highest rate of increase since 2003. Since 2000, people with wealth in the range of 10,000–100,000 dollars have seen the biggest rise in numbers, more than trebling in size from 507 million in 2000 to 1.7 billion in mid-2020. "This reflects the growing prosperity of emerging economies, especially China, and the expansion of the middle class in the developing world", says the report.

Ultra ricos por países

Global wealth is projected to rise by 39% over the next five years, reaching 583 trillion dollars by 2025. Low and middle-income countries are responsible for 42% of the growth, although they account for just 33% of current wealth. Wealth per adult is projected to increase by 31%, passing the mark of 100,000 dollars. Unadjusted for inflation, the number of millionaires will also grow markedly over the next five years reaching 84 million, while the number of UHNWIs should reach 344,000.

Ricos a 2025

Nannette Hechler-Fayd’herbe, Chief Investment Officer International Wealth Management and Global Head of Economics & Research at Credit Suisse, claimed that "there is no denying" actions taken by governments and central banks to organize massive income transfer programs to support the individuals and businesses most adversely affected by the pandemic, and by lowering interest rates, have successfully averted a full scale global crisis.

“Although successful, these interventions have come at a great cost. Public debt relative to GDP has risen throughout the world by 20 percentage points or more in many countries. Generous payments from the public sector to households have meant that disposable household income has been relatively stable and has even risen in some countries. Coupled with restricted consumption, household saving has surged inflating household financial assets and lowering debts. The lowering of interest rates by central banks has probably had the greatest impact. It is a major reason why share prices and house prices have flourished, and these translate directly into our valuations of household wealth", she concluded.