The number of billionaires in the Middle East and North Africa region rose 24 per cent to 52 in 2017, according to a report from Swiss bank UBS and auditors PwC. Their total wealth increased 15 per cent to reach $165 billion.
The number of billionaires globally surged a record 19 per cent to $8.9 trillion – shared among 2,158 individuals, according to the annual Billionaires Insights report: New Visionaries and the Chinese Century by UBS and PwC.
“We are experiencing a new wave of entrepreneurship worldwide, with billionaires at the vanguard of innovation,” said Josef Stadler, head of ultra high net worth at UBS Global Wealth Management.
"They are creating jobs and prosperity, but their impact goes beyond economics. A new generation is emerging, and they see an opportunity to tackle some of the greatest environmental and societal challenges facing humankind."
The record increase appears to be driven by innovative entrepreneurs – with 75 per cent of the Mena region’s ultra-wealthy population consisting of self-made billionaires. Across the globe, self-made billionaires have been behind 80 per cent of the main innovations over the past 40 years, according to the report.
In 2017, 199 entrepreneurs became self-made billionaires, including innovators in the fields of blockchain, peer-to-peer lending and green energy.
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Chinese billionaires were the most prolific globally, according to the report, expanding their numbers to 373 in 2017 from 318 in 2016. There were only 16 Chinese billionaires as recently as 2006, the report said.
Their wealth also expanded at nearly double the pace of other countries, growing by 39 per cent to $1.12tn and producing two new billionaires a week in 2017, while Asia as a whole produced more than three billionaires a week.
“Over the last decade, Chinese billionaires have created some of the world’s largest and most successful companies, raised living standards,” said Mr Stadler. “But this is just the beginning. China’s vast population, technology innovation and productivity growth, combined with government support, are providing unprecedented opportunities for individuals not only to build businesses but also to change people’s lives for the better.”
In the Americas region, the wealth of billionaires increased at a slower rate of 12 per cent, to $3.6tn, with the US creating 53 new billionaires in 2017 compared to 87 five years ago.
Currency appreciation led to European billionaires’ wealth growing by 19 per cent, although the number of billionaires rose by just 4 per cent to 414.
The Mena region could experience a further surge in billionaire numbers, as the number of demi-billionaires – individuals with wealth of more than $500 million – is set to increase by 28 per cent in the next four years, according to the Knight Frank Wealth Report released last month
The Middle East’s demi-billionaire tally is forecast to grow to 500 individuals by 2022 from 390 last year. Saudi Arabia is leading the way, with the number of demi-billionaires forecast to increase 17 per cent by 2022 to reach 140 people.