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World's richest take a hit

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Economic turmoil is pinching the pocketbooks of the world's wealthy - a little.

Global wealth among high net worth individuals declined 1.7 percent last year amid market volatility, the World Wealth Report by Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management shows. It fell in all regions except for the Middle East.

The drop is the first since the 2008 global economic crisis, a year when high net worth individual wealth plunged 19.5 percent, the report said. That said, their total wealth still amounted to $42-trillion last year - the second-highest level since record-keeping began in 2005.

For this year, "although European Union leaders have taken steps to contain the sovereign debt crisis, weak growth and challenges in the euro zone are expected to add to the volatility," the report said.

Their fortunes may be ebbing - slightly - but the population of wealthy people is growing.

The number of high net worth individuals - defined as those with assets to invest of $1-million US or more - rose 0.8 percent last year to 11-million worldwide. Most of that growth was among those in the $1-million to $5-million wealth band.

The number of ultra-rich - those with $30-million or more - fell, and so did their wealth, from 2010 levels.

For the first time on record, Asia-Pacific has the highest number of wealthy citizens of any region in the world - a shift that symbolizes the tilting of global economic clout.

The number of high net worth individuals rose 1.6 percent in Asia-Pacific last year to 3.37-million people.

That surpasses North America's high net worth population of 3.35-million. It's the first time in the 16 years the report has been produced that Europe or North America are not on top.

It's another glimpse of how the balance of power is shifting away from advanced economies and towards emerging markets. This trend will continue: by 2025, six major emerging economies - Brazil, China, Indonesia, South Korea, and Russia - will account for more than half of all global growth, the World Bank predicted last year.

"It is significant that for the first time this year there are now more high net worth individuals in Asia-Pacific than in any other region," noted George Lewis, group head of RBC Wealth Management.

However, "losses in key markets such as Hong Kong and India meant that wealth contracted in Asia-Pacific overall."

The United States still has the higher number of high net worth people, followed by Japan and Germany. South Korea replaced India for 12th place, while Brazil had the greatest percentage leap in the number of wealthy people.

Wealthy investors fled risk last year. Declining equity and commodity prices and ebbing valuations of tangible investments sent investors flocking to cash and fixed income to preserve their capital, the report said. Last year was the second-most volatile in the past 15 years.

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