Wealth of the UAE has tripled in the past decade

Adults in the Emirates are now wealthier than those in a number of European countries, according to a report from Credit Suisse, but debt has quadrupled because of credit cards and loans.

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ABU DHABI // The average adult in the Emirates is almost three times as wealthy as a decade ago.

According to a report from the Zurich-based investment bank Credit Suisse, the UAE's per-capital wealth has vaulted past that of several European countries - but as the country's wealth has risen, its debt has risen at an even quicker pace.

The report said the UAE's wealth per adult, which includes property and financial investments, rose from US$56,777 in 2000 to $150,121 (Dh150,121) in 2010.

Despite the increased buying power, residents have also quadrupled their indebtedness during the same period, which economists say speaks of growing consumerism. UAE residents' levels of debt have risen to $28,483 from $7,110. Credit Suisse factored in the effects of inflation, and all dollar values represent buying power in 2010.

The report said the world's wealthiest country was Switzerland, with an average wealth of $372,692, followed by Norway, Australia, Singapore, France and Sweden with the US seventh.

The UAE's nearest Gulf rival in personal wealth is Qatar, where adults now have an average wealth of $109,369.

Osama Abbasi, the chief executive officer for the Asia-Pacific region at Credit Suisse, said: "The report confirms that Asia-Pacific countries, which now make up the bulk of the world's middle class of emerging consumers, are driving the growth of the world's wealth.

"China is the third-largest wealth market in the world. Economic expansion in other key markets in Asia-Pacific means that, today, growth in average household wealth per adult is up to 10 times the global growth rate."

John Sfakianakis, the chief economist at Banque Saudi Fransi, said the Gulf's boom had left many residents vastly richer.

"Definitely wealth creation over the past 10 years has much to do with the real estate and construction boom that took place. What makes the case of Qatar and the UAE unique is the fact that these economies were really booming at a very high pace in certain sectors like construction, which was growing in double digits," he said.

Demand for credit cards and loans had grown, Mr Sfakianakis said, as UAE residents sought to enjoy the fruits of their labours.

"The amount of indebtedness is directly related to the consumerism that grew as a result of the economic boom that we witnessed," Mr Sfakianakis said. "Banks were also a part of this because they were issuing consumer loans."

Sellers of luxury goods agreed that they had seen customers' buying power increase during the decade.

Hemant Karamchandani, the manager of Passion Jewellers in Dubai, set up shop in 2002 and has seen local demand increase, despite of a slight dip during the recession. He said the demand for diamonds "has always been increasing and increasing, and people are also now looking at them as an investment as well".

While expatriate customers make up the bulk of his sales of diamonds and platinum, his Emirati buyers are most interested in gold jewellery. "The size of the jewellery is what they're looking for. What they're looking for is big - huge," he said.

Mr Sfakianakis warned that accurate statistics on wealth in the Middle East were difficult to pin down. Credit Suisse acknowledged that financial data for the UAE were hard to come by.

The Credit Suisse report said global wealth was due to increase by 61 per cent to $315 trillion during the next five years, largely driven by the growing middle class in emerging economies in the Asia Pacific region. The report pegged current global wealth at $195 trillion.

And while the UAE's big spenders have increased debts, they pale in comparison to the Danes, who lead the world with average debts per adult of $113,978.