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Global billionaire club gets bigger and richer

Ernesto Bertarelli

Ernesto Bertarelli is one of Switzerland's 35 billionaires (Keystone) - Click to enlarge

The total wealth of the world’s 1,542 billionaires – including 35 in Switzerland – grew 17% to $6 trillion (CHF5.93 trillion) last year, led by a surge in Asia’s emerging billionaire class and growth in the materials, industrials, financial and technology sectors.

The wealth of Switzerland’s billionaires grew by a mere 12%, according to the UBS/PwC Billionaires Report 2017external link, published on Thursday.

On average, a new billionaire was created in Asia every two days, with the total number of Asian billionaires rising by almost a quarter to 637, compared with 563 in the US.

While the US still retains the greatest concentration of wealth, the report shows that if the current trend continues, the total wealth of Asian billionaires will overtake that of their counterparts in the US in four years.

The story for Europe in 2016 was largely the preservation of wealth. There were 342 billionaires in Europe by the end of the year, but growth remained static. Overall wealth grew modestly by 5% to just over $1.3 trillion, with 24 new billionaires and 21 dropping off the list, a third of them due to death.

The fortunes of Europe’s billionaires are closely intertwined with its countries’ economies. Germany, the largest economy, also has most billionaires, at 117. Britain comes a distant second (55), followed by Italy (42), France (39) and Switzerland (35).

France’s wealth grew fastest in 2016, at a rate of 15%, lifted by the fortunes of a few families. It was followed by Switzerland at 12% and Spain at 10%. Britain lagged at 1% and Germany at just above zero.

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