New Zealanders led the world for the largest annual jump in wealth, but one prominent economist warned that the numbers were further evidence of rising inequality in a country experiencing the “rise of the gentry”.
Investment bank Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report shows that New Zealand experienced the largest rise in average wealth per adult, ballooning by $114,000 (NZ$193,248) in 2020 bringing the total average wealth per adult to $472,153 In 2021 – at an annual rate of 32% – an increase throughout the year.
There were 347,000 people in the country with more than $1 million to their name in 2021, the report said. About 2.1 million New Zealanders – out of a total population of just over 5 million – are in the top 10% of global net worth individuals. About 281,000 of those are in the top 1%.
Of the $114,000 increase cited by the report, 60 per cent came via housing, while the other 40 per cent came due to the well-performing global financial markets, said Shamabil Ekop, a prominent New Zealand economist.
“The increase in housing prices was extraordinary,” he said. But with nearly half of New Zealand adults owning their own homes, ‘increasing wealth has been distributed unevenly’.
Okb refers to it as “the rise of the land’s nobility, with genetically increasing wealth and housing opportunities”.
For years, New Zealand has been plagued by a runaway housing market. Wellington and Auckland have some of the least affordable real estate markets in the world, and home ownership rates have been declining since the early 1990s across all age groups, but especially for people in their twenties and thirties. Home values rose during the first two years of the pandemic, while wages remained stagnant. By August 2021, house prices had risen 25% in the past 12 months alone – on top of already extraordinarily high prices.
The problem with focusing on averages and aggregates of such numbers, Aqoub added, is that it may miss the growing gap between renters and owners, and between the haves and the have-nots in New Zealand.
With nearly two-thirds of New Zealanders’ assets in the housing sector, Ekop said, it was no surprise that housing wealth has boomed during the pandemic, adding that just because the market is slowing now “doesn’t mean this inequality isn’t persistent.”
The Credit Suisse report paints a broad picture of individual wealth around the world, with the number of “Ultra High Net Worth” (UHNW) people – or those with more than $50 million in assets – swelled by 46,000 last year to a record 218,200 in 2021 as the super-rich benefit from rising home prices and booming stock markets.
“A strong rise in financial assets has led to an increase in inequality in 2021,” the bank report said. “It is likely that the rise in inequality resulted from the rise in the value of financial assets during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The number of people in the UHNW category has increased more than 50% over the past two years.
It is followed by New Zealand, the United States, Australia, Canada and Taiwan. Those who suffered the biggest losses were Japan, Italy and Belgium.