Asia Attracts Wealth as China’s Richest to Eclipse Japan

Hong Kong and Singapore saw offshore wealth assets jump 20 percent to $1.2 trillion last year as Asian millionaires chose local financial centers over those in Europe, according to a study by Boston Consulting Group.

Asia-Pacific “centers such as Singapore and Hong Kong are expected to receive most of the newly created wealth in the region that finds its way offshore,” the Boston-based firm said in its annual global wealth report published yesterday. Hong Kong has the greatest concentration of billionaires followed by Switzerland, the survey of 140 financial firms showed.

Asian wealth outside Japan rose 14 percent to $28 trillion in 2012 and will surpass North America by 2017, according to the report. China will leapfrog Japan to become the world’s second-wealthiest nation by that date and is projected to have more millionaire households than its Asian neighbor by the end of December, Boston Consulting said.

The number of millionaire households in the U.S. increased last year by about 14 percent to 5.88 million, four times as many as China or Japan. Qatar had the greatest concentration of millionaire households with 14.3 percent, followed by Switzerland and Kuwait. Singapore, which topped that ranking last year, came fifth as Boston Consulting restated its figure after changes in the methodology used to estimate wealth held equities and cash.

Private banks must build a presence in Asia as the region’s centers increase their share of offshore wealth to about 18 percent by 2017 from 15 percent last year, Boston Consulting said. While Switzerland remains the largest center for offshore private wealth, the proportion of assets held in Zurich, Geneva and London will decline, the study showed.

Offshore Pressure

Switzerland has $2.2 trillion out of a global total of $8.5 trillion managed for people resident or domiciled in other countries. Banks with offshore businesses are facing increasing pressure from tax authorities in the U.S. and western Europe, according to the report.

The U.S. is investigating at least 14 financial firms in Switzerland on suspicions they helped Americans hide money from the Internal Revenue Service. The European Union is trying to introduce arrangements to share citizens’ bank-account and tax data across the 27-nation bloc and with neighboring countries including Switzerland.

The offshore industry is “still viable” as wealthy people look to spread their assets across different booking centers and seek domiciles with discretion and economic stability, Boston Consulting said. Asia-Pacific investors may deposit $1.4 trillion of wealth in offshore centers over the next five years.

Global Wealth

“Private banks will have to adjust to the current trends by building local presences, developing more sophisticated offerings and adapting to regulatory requirements,” the report said.

Global private financial wealth, including onshore deposits, increased 7.8 percent to $135.5 trillion in 2012, outpacing the previous two years’ growth as equity markets advanced on central banks’ fiscal stimulus, according to the report.

The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index gained 13 percent last year, helping North America remain the wealthiest region. While the proportion of private wealth invested in equities increased to 34 percent, that’s still lower than before the financial crisis, Boston Consulting said.

Emerging markets also benefited from economic growth and savings rates, according to the report. Those regions will surge on new wealth creation over the next five years, with India set to more than double private wealth by 2017.

North America and Europe will depend on returns from existing assets for more than half of their wealth growth, Boston Consulting said.

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