|China and Hong Kong up, Indonesia down|
As reported in the Forbes 2014 list of billionaires, the past year was generally a good one for the world’s wealthiest, given the rebound in the stock markets and continued recovery from the crisis years. There were 1,645 billionaires with a combined wealth of $6.4 trillion, up from $5.4 trillion the previous year.
In Asia, China stayed at the front of the pack, extending its lead against all other nations other than the US (which had 492 uber-wealthy souls worth 10+ digits). Hong Kong continued to punch far above its population weight, just as the SAR’s Li Ka Shing continued to hold the trophy of Asia’s Wealthiest, with $31 billion. HK’s Superman stood only a whisker behind Google’s Sergey Brin and a couple of bucks ahead of Mark Zuckerberg. As reported in this blog a few weeks ago, Li KS is followed not too further back by the Macau casino magnate Lui Che Woo, who is eight places behind (and Asia’s second wealthiest), with $22 billion.
Singapore fared well, adding six more names to the list from 2013. These newcomers may be sighing with relief for their good fortune given that, with the island nation now the most expensive place in the world to live, even the wealthy need a few more bucks in their pocket.
Asia’s big losers? First off, Indonesia, which had six fewer billionaires. The bursting of the natural resources bubble and decline of the rupiah knocked the wind out of the archipelago’s sails. But more importantly, Asia’s little guys also continued to fall backwards on the wealth disparity curve and as victims of inflation. While such dismaying social trends continue, ranking the world’s wealthy feels like a matter of curiosity and entertaining dinner party chatter, one that does little to address more fundamental issues.
One final note – the Forbes ranking is based on measurable wealth. The reality of affluence in countries across Asia, including in China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, North Korea, Mongolia etc. is that much of the big bucks lie undercover and in the shadows, away from the public’s prying eyes.