The Billionaires’ Club

Dubai in top 10 cities with maximum number of billionaires

Like the sea eagle and the grey wolf, another once rare species is growing in numbers — the billionaire. The population of dollar billionaires across the globe has increased by a net 155 to 2,325 in the past 12 months, according to the latest census of the often camera-shy, reclusive creature.

The Singapore-based Wealth-X, a consultancy that tracks billionaires and closely monitors their habits, says 500 wealthy individuals have seen their net worth rise above the billion dollar mark in the past year, although this was offset by a less fortunate 345 who dropped out of the exclusive club, by virtue of either business disappointment or death.

Rising share values last year were largely responsible for the seven per cent rise in billionaire numbers, according to the report, which has the backing of UBS, the Swiss bank. Their combined wealth rose by 12 per cent to $7.3 trillion — equivalent to about three times the total annual output of Britain. However, falling commodity prices have hit the fortunes of some.

With 34 ultra-rich, Dubai is in eighth place in the ranking  of cities with the maximum number of billionaires for its size.

Britain did less well as a habitat for the species, with resident billionaire numbers dropping by five to 130 in the year, though it still has the third biggest billionaire population after the United States, with 571, and China, with 190.

UK-based billionaires also got poorer in aggregate, their total net worth falling by $25 billion to $395 billion, according to Wealth-X’s estimates.

Billionaires remain extremely rare, outnumbered by non-billionaires by a factor of 300 million to one. However, population densities vary enormously. Liechtenstein is the best place for pluto-twitchers hoping to spot the species, with five of them resident there, a billionaire density equivalent to 125 per million people.

The typical billionaire is aged 63, has a net worth of $3.1 billion, liquid assets such as cash of $600 million and owns four homes, each worth an average of $23.5 million. One in 30 billionaires owns a sports team or a racehorse, while yachts, aircraft, cars and art are automatic baubles for many. Male billionaires outnumber their female equivalents by seven to one. Eighty-nine per cent of male billionaires are married, six per cent divorced, three per cent single and two per cent widowed. Of the world’s 286 female billionaires, 65 per cent are married, 10.1 per cent divorced, 3.9 per cent single and 21 per cent widowed.

Self-made billionaires such as Sir James Dyson, the British vacuum cleaner innovator, outnumber billionaires who inherit most of their fortune, like the Duke of Westminster. Eighty-one per cent made the majority of their fortune themselves, Wealth-X says. Most billionaires do not break through the $1 billion barrier until their late 40s while more than a fifth of them are over 75. Just one per cent have not yet celebrated their 35th birthday.

Banking, finance and investment is the most common route to billionaire status. More than 19 per cent of fortunes are made in this way, while 12 per cent stem from industrial empires and seven per cent from property.

Stock market-listed companies are not a prime route to riches: 63 per cent of billionaires’s primary businesses are unlisted while 31 per cent are quoted.

While a billion dollars is becoming a feasible fortune for hundreds more entrepreneurs each year, larger fortunes remain less attainable. “The real wealth ceiling seems to be at $10 billion,” states the Wealth-X report. Only 208 people have achieved this level of wealth, while a mere four have broken through the barrier of $50 billion, equivalent to the GDP of Uruguay or Burma.

London boasts 72 billionaires, fourth behind New York with 103, Moscow with 85, and Hong Kong with 82. Zug, the Swiss canton favoured by tax-phobic hedge fund managers, has 12.

Underlying its appeal for Russian oligarchs and Indian tycoons, the study found 53 per cent of London-based billionaires were born outside the UK.

The billionaires’ club is going to be ever less exclusive, according to Wealth-X. It predicted another 1,475 people would become billionaires by 2020, boosting the population to 3,800.