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Kuwait City leads the world for billionaires

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Kuwait City is home to more billionaires per capita than anywhere else in the world, according to the latest data.

The Gulf capital boasts one billionaire for every 33,090 inhabitants, making it the most densely populated city for those with more than ten digits of wealth, reports the Billionaire Census 2022 from New York-based consultancy Wealth-X.

San Francisco ranked second in the list with one for every 56,209 residents, followed by Hong Kong (59,516) and Doha (90,709), with Singapore rounding out the top five with one billionaire for every 104,997 residents.

London ranked number seven with one in 160,917, followed by Abu Dhabi in eighth position with 166,088. Dubai didn’t appear in the top 15.

While Maeen Shaban, director of research and analytics at Wealth-X, pointed out that the rankings will be skewed by the fact that Kuwait has exceptional oil wealth and is a relatively small city, another piece of research by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) indicated that the Gulf state is likely to hold on to its top position for some time as its wealth is set to increase.

“We see Middle East and African financial wealth growing year after year, including Kuwait, despite a tremulous global market,” said Mustafa Bosca, managing director and partner at BCG. 

“Kuwait has grown three percent every year since 2016 to $0.3 trillion in 2021 and is expected to continuously grow to 2026.

“Also, approximately 28 percent of Kuwait’s wealth derived from the ultra high net worth (HNW) segment in 2021, which are individuals who are worth more than $100 million.”

The report found that the Middle East is home to the world’s fourth-largest community of billionaires, but they fared mixed fortunes as a result of the pandemic. 

The number of Middle Eastern billionaires declined by 12 percent to 191 people, while their cumulative wealth actually increased by 12.5 percent to $519 billion, further enlarging the wealth disparity.

“The Middle East is one of the regions with the highest wealth inequality globally,” Shaban said.

“This inequality exists among billionaires in the region too, with those at the high end [of the scale] controlling a lot more wealth than billionaires at the lower end.”

The two biggest players in the Gulf – the UAE and Saudi Arabia –  exhibited markedly different trends over the last year.

Saudi Arabia’s billionaire population increased by 10.9 percent to 71, while its total wealth soared 33 percent to $192 billion. 

By comparison, and in line with the wider Middle East, the UAE’s billionaires decreased by 10 percent to 45, while its overall wealth increased by 20 percent to $181 billion.

“While the relative lower exposure of the Saudi market to global forces (compared to the UAE) helped shield it to some level from the pandemic impact, Saudi is experiencing major economical and political reforms and is investing heavily in new industries, making the domestic market resilient,” Shaban said.

The biggest wealth market in the world is the US with 975 billionaires worth $4,450 billion, followed by China (400 worth $1,451 billion), Germany (176 worth $602 billion), India (124 worth $384 billion) and the UK (120 worth $266 billion).

According to additional data supplied to AGBI by Wealth-X, females make up only 1.8 percent of billionaires in the Gulf, and the average age of the community is 65.8 years old.

The data also showed that 42.2 percent of billionaires were self-made, while the remaining received some, or all, of their wealth through inheritance.

With an ageing population living even longer, succession planning has become even more important despite a survey by global wealth and asset manager Lombard Odier finding that only a quarter of HNWIs in the Middle East have plans in place for what will happen to their estates and how it will be transferred to the next generation.

However, Wealth-X’s Shaban said he had seen a rise in the number of wealthy families setting up new legal structures designed to transfer wealth and complex assets to the next generation with minimal impact on business operations.

“This will protect and ensure business continuity during the wealth transfer process (and beyond) which can be lengthy,” Shaban said.

“This is also going to present a need for more sophisticated regulations concerning these entities including tax, ownership rights, etc.”