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India, China Mint New Millionaires Faster than US

India and China saw bigger growth in the millionaire population last year than anywhere else, and wealth in the Asia-Pacific is expected to grow nearly 8 percent a year to 2012 despite a slowdown in the world at large, a survey showed.

The number of millionaires in the Asia-Pacific grew 8.7 percent from a year ago to 2.8 million people and their combined wealth soared 12.5 percent to $9.5 trillion, excluding the value of their homes and consumables, Merrill Lynch and Capgemini said at a news conference in Singapore on Wednesday.

Asia was home to some of the world's fastest-growing populations of millionaires, their annual World Wealth Report said, with India, China, Indonesia, South Korea and Singapore in the top ten in terms of growth.

The number of millionaires in India rose 22.7 percent to 123,000 people, the fastest growth in the world, and millionaires in China grew 20.3 percent to 415,000, making it home to the fifth-largest number of millionaires in the world, displacing France in that position.

Li Ka-shing, who controls a vast telecoms and property empire in Hong Kong and China, ranks as the world's 11th richest man, according to Forbes.

Globally, millionaires grew 6 percent to 10.1 million people and their wealth rose 9.4 percent to $40.7 trillion in the same period, the Merrill/Capgemini report said.

Kong Eng Huat, Merrill Lynch's Southeast Asia head of wealth management, said that in five years millionaires in Asia would have more combined wealth than those in Europe.

"Notwithstanding the recent dislocation in global markets, the robust economies in Asia are increasingly being driven by the domestic consumption story and continue to spur wealth creation in the region," he said.

Asian millionaires' wealth would grow annually by 7.9 percent to $13.9 trillion in 2012 against $13.5 trillion among Europe's wealthiest, or 4.9 percent annual growth, the report said.

Luxury

Although rocky markets have forced Asian investors to conserve cash, they continue to pour money into luxury products such as jewelry and art.

"Luxury goods makers, high-end service providers and auction houses all found ready clients in the emerging markets of the world -- most notably China, India, Russia and the Middle East," the report said.

Soaring wealth, high savings and ample potential have made Asia the world's hottest market for international and private banks seeking to cater to the rich.

This has led to an influx of new players into Asia, such as Julius Baer, who are competing against established names such as UBS, HSBC and Citigroup.

The report also showed wealthy investors have shifted more money out of real estate and into bonds and cash.

The trend was most dramatic in the Asia-Pacific, where investors have cut real estate holdings by 9 percentage points from a year ago, to a fifth of their total investments.

But the report warned that the rich face the challenges of slower growth in developed markets hit by the credit crisis, as well as the risk of high inflation in emerging markets.

"The big shock this year has been higher inflation," said Stephen Corry, head of investment strategy in Asia at Merrill Lynch's global wealth management unit, at a news conference in Singapore.

"Inflation is the biggest risk for Asia and the global economy."

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