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Credit Suisse: Global household wealth falls 5.2% to USD 223 trillion, with Eurozone crisis as backdrop

LONDON, Oct. 10, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- The Credit Suisse Research Institute today released its third annual Global Wealth Report 2012, which finds that from mid-2011 to mid-2012 aggregate global household wealth fell by 5.2% in current dollar terms to USD 223 trillion due to the economic uncertainties of the past year – particularly those affecting the Eurozone. Furthermore, the relative stability of the US economy has led to an appreciation of the USD against most currencies, but the impact is especially apparent in Europe, raising the aggregate wealth loss to USD 10.9 trn, by far the largest contribution to the total global loss of USD 12.3 trn. Asia-Pacific was the other big regional loser, shedding USD 1.4 trn.


Against the backdrop of the Eurozone crisis, Credit Suisse in its report also details the rise in household debt, which has risen in aggregate by 81% from 2000-2012, and analyses household debt as a fraction of net worth, i.e., typically 20-30% of wealth in advanced economies.

In addition, Credit Suisse's research highlights household wealth forecasts, including that it expects:

  • Wealth to rise by almost 50% in the next five years from USD 223 trillion in 2012 to USD 330 trillion in 2017
  • The number of millionaires worldwide to increase by about 18 million reaching 46 million in 2017
  • China to add a total of USD 18 trillion to the stock of global wealth in the next five years and surpass Japan as the second wealthiest country in the world
  • The USA to remain on top of the wealth league with USD 89 trillion by 2017
  • The Eurozone's total wealth in the next 5 years to only equal today's level of wealth in the USA, despite that the Eurozone counts 16 million more adults

Giles Keating, Global Head of Research for Private Banking and Asset Management, Credit Suisse, said: "The third annual Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report analyses the overall patterns of wealth as one of the pillars of the economic system from which we can extrapolate where economic growth is coming from, assess the accumulation of capital, trends in consumption and asset prices, and understand the drivers of growth in specific industries such as healthcare and banking.  This year's report also includes comprehensive analyses of household debt and government debt, to highlight which countries have sustainable overall debt levels and which ones have the most problems." 

Credit Suisse Research Institute's Michael O'Sullivan and Richard Kersley said: "There's no question that the economic uncertainties of the past year – particularly those affecting the Eurozone – have cast a huge shadow over household wealth.  Our research confirms that economic recession in many countries combined with widespread equity price reductions and subdued housing markets have produced the worst environment for wealth creation since the financial crisis."

Professor Anthony Shorrocks, Co-author of the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2012, said: "Unlike any other, Credit Suisse's analysis comprises the wealth holdings of 4.6 billion adults in the world, from those with average wealth of just a few hundred dollars or less in some developing countries, up through the emerging middle classes in Asia and elsewhere, to the billionaires at the top of the "wealth pyramid" and across more than 200 countries; uses a variety of reliable sources; and applies state-of-the-art techniques to estimate the level and pattern of household wealth across individual adults."

For a copy of the Credit Suisse Research Institute report, "Global Wealth Report 2012," please click here. Full information on sources and methodology is also provided in the Global Wealth Databook 2012.

Changes in wealth from 2011-12
Total global household wealth fell 5.2% in current dollar terms to USD 223 trillion, equivalent to USD 49,000 per adult in the world, the first decline since the financial crisis of 2007-08. 

The relative stability of the US economy has led to an appreciation of the USD against most currencies, but the impact is especially apparent in Europe, raising the aggregate wealth loss to USD 10.9 trn, by far the largest contribution to the total global loss of USD 12.3 trn. Asia-Pacific (including China and India) was the other big regional loser, shedding USD 1.4 trn. North America had a modest gain of USD 882 billion.

Table 1: Changes in household wealth 2011-2012 by region


Change in Total Wealth 2011-
12 USD bn

2011-12 %




Asia-Pacific (including China and India)






Latin America



North America






Despite the setbacks in 2007 and more recently, household wealth has grown strongly over the past decade, with the global aggregate doubling from the USD 113 trillion recorded at the start of the millennium. Even controlling for the rise in the global population and for exchange rate changes, net worth has increased by 38% since the year 2000, equivalent to 2.7% growth per annum. Using constant USD exchange rates reinforces the view that the underlying trends have been, and continue to be, broadly positive. In fact, aggregate global household wealth still managed to rise by about 1% during the past year when USD exchange rates are held constant.

Top of the wealth pyramid
Credit Suisse estimates suggest that worldwide there are 84,500 UHNW individuals, defined as those with net assets exceeding USD 50 million. Of these, 29,300 are worth at least USD 100 million and 2,700 have assets above USD 500 million. North America dominates the regional ranking, with 40,000 UHNW residents (47%), while Europe hosts 22,000 individuals (26%), and 12,800 (15%) reside in Asia-Pacific countries, excluding China and India.

In terms of single countries, the US leads by a huge margin with 37,950 UHNW individuals, equivalent to 45% of the group. The recent fortunes created in China have propelled it into second place with 4,700 representatives (5.6% of the global total), followed by Germany (4,000), Japan (3,400), United Kingdom (3,200) and Switzerland (3,050). Numbers in other BRIC countries are also rising fast, with 1,950 members in Russia, 1,550 in India and 1,500 in Brazil, and strong showings are evident in Taiwan (1,200), Hong Kong (1,100) and Turkey (1,000).

Wealth of nations: Top 10 countries with the highest average wealth per adult in mid-2012 (USD)
The richest nations, with wealth per adult over USD 100,000, are found in North America, Western Europe, and among the rich Asia-Pacific and Middle East countries. They are headed by Switzerland, which in 2011 became the first country in which average wealth exceeded USD 500,000. Exchange rate changes have reduced its wealth per adult from USD 540,000 in 2011 to USD 470,000 in 2012; but this still remains considerably higher than the level in Australia (USD 354,986) and Norway (USD 325,989), which retain second and third places despite falls of about 10%. Close behind are a group of nations with average wealth above USD 200,000, many of which have experienced double digit depreciation against the US dollar, such as France, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark and Italy.

Table 2: Top 10 countries with the highest average wealth per adult in mid-2012 (USD)



Average wealth per adult

Change since mid-2011 (%)









































Household debt
Recent concern with debt sustainability has focused almost exclusively on sovereign debt and the vulnerability of the banking sector. Yet the degree to which governments can finance external debt in times of difficulty depends in part on the net assets of the household sector. More importantly, when considering whether their assets are sufficient to meet future consumption needs and emergencies, households should take account of the debts that governments are accumulating on their behalf.

Controlling for exchange rate changes, total household debt in the world grew by 8% per annum during 2000-7, and then flattened out. Over the whole period 2000-2012, aggregate debt rose by 81%, equivalent to 5% growth per annum. Expressed as a fraction of net worth, household debt is typically 20-30% of wealth in advanced economies, but much higher levels are sometime recorded, for example in Ireland (44%), the Netherlands (45%) and Denmark (51%).

Debt in proportion to wealth
Despite the rise in wealth, in most countries where household debt exceeds USD 1 trillion the ratio of debt to net worth rose during the period 2000‑8, on average by about 50%. Debt in the United States increased from 18.7% of net worth in 2000 to peak at 30.5% in 2008 before falling back to 21.7% in 2011. The United Kingdom exhibited a very similar pattern, with the debt ratio climbing from 15.2% to 23.4% between 2000 and 2008, then dropping to 20% in 2012.The rise in the debt-wealth ratio was even more precipitous in the Netherlands and Spain, and although the increase abated slightly to 71% in the Netherlands, no reduction is evident in Spain, for which the ratio is now 90% higher than in 2000. Debt growth was also high in Italy, but from a much lower base, so that the debt-wealth ratio of 11.1% in 2012 is not just the lowest among the countries depicted, but actually below the average for the world as a whole, which is 17.7%. France (12.8%), Germany (16.4%) and Japan (16.6%) now also fall below the global average.

In the developing world, the absolute level of debt is seldom more than USD 1,000 per adult, but exceptionally high levels – above USD 5,000 per adult – are evident in Brazil, Chile and South Africa.

Countries with government debt problems
Among the countries with the highest levels of net government debt relative to household financial assets, the situation in Japan, Poland and Spain appears to be manageable, at least from the evidence up to 2011. In Hungary, government debt rose between 2000 and 2010, almost wiping out the total value of household financial assets, but pulled back from the brink in 2011. Ireland appears more problematic. Net government debt was close to zero in 2007, but has since grown faster than any other country, and reached 92% of household net financial assets in 2011.

Surprising findings
Credit Suisse's analysis of household debt has highlighted a number of facts that may come as a surprise. For example, Canada now has the highest debt to income ratio among G7 countries, and Italy has the lowest. The countries with the highest levels of household debt per adult – Denmark, Norway and Switzerland – are among the wealthiest and most successful; average debt in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain is much lower. Debt has risen significantly in advanced countries during the past decade, but on nothing like the scale of the developing world, where almost every country has surpassed the global average of 45% growth during 2000-2012.

Inheritance as a source of wealth differs by region
Inherited wealth likely accounts for 30-50% of total household wealth in OECD countries based on reasonable assumptions.  In low growth or traditional societies, the share is likely to be higher while in transition economies extremely low. Of the total 1,226 billionaires in 2012 on the Forbes list, 842 or 69% were self-made. China, Russia, and Eastern European countries account for 209 billionaires of the total, but only two owe their fortune to inheritance.

Wealth in the Future
Credit Suisse estimates suggests that the number of global millionaires could exceed 46 million in the year 2017, a rise of more than 18 million. While the number of millionaires in emerging economies is still far below the levels in the USA (16.9 million) or Europe (15.4 million), it is expected to increase substantially in the next few years. China could see its number doubling by 2017, raising the total to almost 2 million. Credit Suisse also expects to see a substantial increase in the number of millionaires in various countries and in transition economies (see Table 3).

Table 3: Number of millionaires in 2012 and 2017 by regions, selected countries and world


Number (thousand)

Number (thousand)


Change (%)









































Hong Kong       
























Saudi Arabia    








Czech Republic               





Number (thousand)

Number (thousand)


Change (%)





Asia-Pacific (inc. China & India) 












North America





Number (thousand)

Number (thousand)


Change (%)





Notes to Editors

  • The Report defines wealth as the value of financial assets and non-financial assets (mainly real estate), minus household debt.
  • All current data relate to mid-2012 and are at then-current market exchange rates (not purchasing power parity).
  • The figures presented in the Report are based on the best available data on household assets and debts, updated and estimated where necessary.
  • Full information on sources and methodology is provided in the Global Wealth Databook 2012.
  • Projections to 2017 are made by the Credit Suisse Research Institute and are based on forecasts of the three components of wealth, financial assets, non-financial assets and debts.

To obtain a copy of the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2012, please visit:

Credit Suisse AG
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This document was produced by and the opinions expressed are those of Credit Suisse as of the date of writing and are subject to change. It has been prepared solely for information purposes and for the use of the recipient. It does not constitute an offer or an invitation by or on behalf of Credit Suisse to any person to buy or sell any security. Any reference to past performance is not necessarily a guide to the future. The information and analysis contained in this publication have been compiled or arrived at from sources believed to be reliable but Credit Suisse does not make any representation as to their accuracy or completeness and does not accept liability for any loss arising from the use hereof.


(1) Biographies of the authors
Anthony Shorrocks is Director of Global Economic Perspectives Ltd. After receiving his PhD from the London School of Economics (LSE), he taught at the LSE until 1983, when he became Professor of Economics at Essex University, serving also as Head of Department and Director of Economic Research for the British Household Panel Study. In 2001 he was appointed Director of the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER) in Helsinki where he remained until 2009. He has published widely on income and wealth distribution, inequality, poverty and mobility and was elected a Fellow of the Econometric Society in 1996. Publications include "The age-wealth relationship: A cross section and cohort analysis" (Review of Economics and Statistics1975), "The portfolio composition of asset holdings in the United Kingdom" (Economic Journal 1982), and, with Jim Davies and others, "Assessing the quantitative importance of inheritance in the distribution of wealth" (Oxford Economic Papers 1978), "The distribution of wealth" (Handbook of Income Distribution 2000), "The world distribution of household wealth" in Personal Wealth from a Global Perspective (Oxford University Press 2008), "The global pattern of household wealth" (Journal of International Development 2009) and "The Level and Distribution of Global Household Wealth" (Economic Journal 2011).

Jim Davies is a Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, where he has been a faculty member since 1977 and served as chair of the department from 1992 to 2001. He has been the director of the Economic Policy Research Institute at UWO since 2001. Jim received his PhD from the London School of Economics in 1979. He recently completed a five-year term as managing editor of Canadian Public Policy. From 2006 to 2008, he directed an international research program on household wealth holdings at UNU-WIDER in Helsinki and edited the resulting volume, "Personal Wealth from a Global Perspective" (Oxford University Press 2008). He has authored two books and over 60 articles and chapters in books on topics ranging from tax policy to household savings and the distribution of wealth. Publications include "The Relative Impact of Inheritance and Other Factors on Economic Inequality" (Quarterly Journal of Economics 1982), "Wealth and Economic Inequality" (Oxford Handbook of Economic Inequality, Oxford University Press, 2009), and several publications on wealth authored jointly with Anthony Shorrocks and others.

Rodrigo Lluberas is a PhD candidate in Economics at Royal Holloway College, University of London and a visiting scholar at the Institute for Fiscal Studies. He holds an MSc in Economics from University College London and a BA in Economics from Universidad de la Republica, Uruguay. Prior to undertaking his MSc, he worked for three years as an economic analyst at Watson Wyatt Global Research Services and more recently as a research assistant at NESTA. His main areas of expertise are pensions, consumption and wealth.

(2) Scope and methodology
The Credit Suisse Research Institute's third annual Global Wealth Report 2012 (the Report) aims to provide the best available estimates of the wealth holdings of households around the world for the period since the year 2000. To be more precise, we are interested in the distribution within and across nations of individual net worth, defined as the marketable value of financial assets plus non-financial assets (principally housing and land) less debts. No country in the world has completely reliable information on personal wealth, and for many countries there is little direct evidence. So we are obliged to assemble and process information from a variety of different sources. In the longer Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook that accompanies this report, the methodology employed is described in more detail.

The procedure involves three main steps, the first two of which mimic the structure followed by Davies, et al (2008, 2011). The first step establishes the average level of wealth for each country. The best source of data for this purpose is household balance sheet (HBS) data which are now provided by 48 countries, although 31 of these countries cover only financial assets and debts. An additional 3 countries have household survey data from which wealth levels can be calculated. Together these countries cover 66% of the global population and 95% of total global wealth. The results are supplemented by econometric techniques which generate estimates of the level of wealth in 150 countries which lack direct information for one or more years.

The second step involves constructing the pattern of wealth holdings within nations. Direct data on the distribution of wealth are available for 20 countries. Inspection of data for these countries suggests a relationship between wealth distribution and income distribution which can be exploited in order to provide a rough estimate of wealth distribution for 143 other countries which have data on income distribution but not on wealth ownership.

It is well recognized that the traditional sources of wealth distribution data are unlikely to provide an accurate picture of wealth ownership in the top-tail of the distribution. To overcome this deficiency, the third step makes use of the information in the "Rich Lists" published by Forbes Magazine and elsewhere to adjust the wealth distribution pattern in the highest wealth ranges. Implementing these procedures leaves 50 countries for which it is difficult to estimate either the level of household wealth or the distribution of wealth, or both. Usually the countries concerned are small (e.g. Andorra, Bermuda, Guatemala, Monaco) or semi-detached from the global economy (e.g. Afghanistan, Cuba, Myanmar, North Korea), but not in every instance (e.g.Angola, Nigeria). For our estimates of the pattern of global wealth, we assign these countries the average level and distribution of the region and income class to which they belong. This is done in preference to omitting the countries altogether, which would implicitly assume that their pattern of wealth holdings matches the world average. However, checks indicate that excluding these nations from the global picture makes little difference to the results.

Of note, China and India are treated as separate regions in the report due to the size of their populations.

(3) The Credit Suisse Research Institute
The Credit Suisse Research Institute identifies and provides insights on global themes and trends. The objective of the Research Institute is to provide our clients with leading edge advice by leveraging internal and external expertise, thus reinforcing our integrated global bank approach.

The Institute was established in December 2008 to conduct research on new emerging or influential topics, working with some of the world's most distinguished experts, academics and institutions and Credit Suisse's global network of analysts, and makes this available throughout the Bank for the business units to create innovative products, solutions and services for Credit Suisse's clients.

Clients increasingly require global reach, local expertise and competitive products and services from the financial services industry. The Institute's investigations are conducted with the goal to furnish clients across divisions and regions with an in-depth analysis of fundamental social, economic, scientific, environmental and demographic trends that are expected to impact global markets in the future.

The Research Institute is chaired by the Chairman of the Board of Credit Suisse, Urs Rohner, and managed by an Operating Committee from Credit Suisse's research units from across the Bank. The Institute draws on eminent Senior Advisors as well as selected Credit Suisse researchers to provide advice, insight and guidance on global themes and trends for the Institute's research agenda. The Institute's Senior Advisors are characterized by their interdisciplinary backgrounds and networks across sciences, academia, business and the political arenas. They include Walter B. Kielholz, The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major, KH, CH, Dr. Laura D. Tyson, Long Yongtu, and Dr. Ernesto Zedillo. For more information, visit:

SOURCE Credit Suisse AG