Thursday, March 29, 2012

Para-dollar Shift

This morning's South China Morning Post displayed this pretty graph in the lead story of the Business section. It mixes two statistical trends that are not necessarily related - % increase in $100-millionaires per country may not have direct bearing on the % of global GDP contributed by various regions, or vice versa. However, the message is quite plainly stated: Asia's pockets are getting heavier faster than anywhere else.

Other interesting factoids pointed out in the Citi Private Bank / Knight Frank joint study:

- East Asia already surpasses North America and Western Europe in the number of $100-millionaires: 18,000 vs. 17,000 vs.14,000, respectively.

- Asia will extend that lead in the next five years, growing at 44.4%, vs 23% and 7% for N. America and W. Europe, respectively.

- On an individual country-by-country basis, the US will still hold a lead over China for a few more years. However, if super-wealth is like Olympic gold medals, that too will probably change.

- As far as global GDP is concerned, Developing Asia already chips in more than N. America and W. Europe. That lead will increase such that almost half the world's output could be produced by Asia in 2050. According to the study, the future is indeed red.

Of course, no growth trajectories are without their bumps and dips. If the words "China", "India", "Russia" were given as clues in a guess-the-topic TV game show, contestants would be forgiven for answering "corrupt and volatile nation-states" rather than "economic superpowers". Continued success for these countries depends in no small part on exogenous factors such as climate change, commodity prices and geopolitical stability. Still, the rise is expected to be both inexorable and disruptive.

And what will these rich folks do with their money? Make "investments of passion." No, that doesn't mean stuffing trust funds for a harem of under-aged mistresses  (although it could). The article refers to wine, art and sports teams. It could just as easily refer to vintage cars, landmark properties, rare watches - the list is endless.

Europe's rise over the centuries gave the world a legacy of beautiful buildings, art and legal (political and economic) systems. America's rise over the past century has given us super-efficient, globe-trotting corporate power. What will Asia's stamp on history be? Given how different the various cultures within the region are from each other, the picture is far from clear. I am neither dumb nor smart enough to make a detailed guess. However, I will be a fascinated observer.

Details Here