Billionaires see fortunes rise by 27% during the pandemic

Amazon boss Jeff Bezos

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Billionaires have seen their fortunes hit record highs during the pandemic, with top executives from technology and industry earning the most.

The world’s richest saw their wealth climb 27.5% to $10.2trn (£7.9trn) from April to July this year, according to a report from Swiss bank UBS.

That was up from the previous peak of $8.9trn at the end of 2017 and largely due to rising global share prices.

UBS said billionaires had done “extremely well” in the Covid crisis.

It also said the number of billionaires had hit a new high of 2,189, up from 2,158 in 2017.

It comes as a World Bank report on Wednesday showed extreme poverty is set to rise this year for the first time in more than two decades due to the pandemic.

Rising demand

Among the billionaires, the biggest winners this year have been industrialists, whose wealth rose a staggering 44% in the three months to July.

“Industrials benefited disproportionately as markets priced in a significant economic recovery [after lockdowns around the world],” UBS said.

Tech billionaires have also had a good pandemic, seeing their wealth soar 41%. UBS said this was “due to the corona-induced demand for their goods and services” and social distancing accelerating “digital businesses [and] compressing several years’ evolution into a few months”.

Healthcare billionaires also benefited as the crisis put drug makers and medical device companies in the spotlight.

The rise in fortunes reflects the generally strong performance of global stock markets since late March, despite most countries continuing to suffer sharp recessions.

Amazon boss Jeff Bezos and Tesla founder Elon Musk – both multi-billionaires – saw their wealth hit new highs this summer thanks to growth in the price of their companies’ stock.

Global change

In the last 11 years China’s billionaires have increased their wealth by the biggest percentage, climbing 1,146% between 2009 and 2020, according to UBS.

By comparison, over the same period the wealth of British billionaires has risen by just 168%.

But the biggest accumulation of wealth remains in the US where American billionaires have $3.5trn, compared to China’s $1.7trn.

The UK’s wealthy have just $205bn, compared to Germany’s $595bn and France’s $443bn.

Donations

UBS said many billionaires had donated some of their wealth to help with the fight against Covid-19.

“Our research has identified 209 billionaires who have publicly committed a total equivalent to $7.2bn from March to June 2020,” the report said.

“They have reacted quickly, in a way that’s akin to disaster relief, providing unrestricted grants to allow grantees to decide how best to use funds.”

But it revealed that UK billionaires donated less than those from other countries.

In the US, 98 billionaires donated $4.5bn, in China 12 billionaires gave $679m, and in Australia just two billionaires donated $324m. But in the UK, nine billionaires donated just $298m.

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