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Asia is the world's most expensive region for the wealthy. Here's how 25 global cities stack up


Asia continues to be the most expensive place in the world to be rich, according to a new report, which saw the region's resilience to the Covid-19 pandemic hold high prices steady.

The world's most populous continent remained the most costly for high-and ultra-high net worth individuals (HNWIs) in Bank Julius Baer's Global Wealth and Lifestyle Report 2021 as its swift response to the global health crisis and overall currency stability maintained the cost of luxury goods in the region.

Four of the five most expensive cities for HNWIs — individuals with $1 million or more in investible assets — are now in Asia, according to the annual report.

Shanghai, China jumped to the top of the ranking of 25 global cities to be named the most expensive place to live as a wealthy individual. Hong Kong, last year's number one, slipped to third place, while Tokyo, Japan held steady in second position.

Monaco, a small wealthy state in Western Europe, and Taipei, Taiwan rounded out the top five.

Covid didn't become an epidemic (in Asia) in quite the same way as the other countries in the index.
Rajesh Manwani
head of markets and wealth management solutions (Asia Pacific), Bank Julius Baer

"Covid didn't become an epidemic (in Asia) in quite the same way as the other countries in the index," said Rajesh Manwani, head of markets and wealth management solutions for Asia-Pacific at Bank Julius Baer.

Europe and the Middle East ranked in second place, with the majority of global cities represented in the region buoyed by the strength of the euro and Swiss franc.

The Americas, meanwhile — hard hit by the pandemic — emerged as the cheapest region to live a luxury lifestyle, as the U.S. and Canadian dollars fell against other major global currencies.

The new must-have luxury goods

The ranking is based on the price of a basket of luxury goods representing discretionary purchases by HNWIs across the 25 global cities.

This year, the list saw major changes as four of the 18 items were replaced as the pandemic shifted consumer spending habits.

Personal trainers, wedding banquets, Botox, and pianos were booted out and replaced by bicycles, treadmills, health insurance and a technology package, including laptop and phone.

"During a year beset by global lockdowns, personal technology and treadmills have surged in popularity, while the price of ladies' shoes has plummeted," the report noted.

"Going forward, we think all these items will continue to have a place in the list," Manwani added, predicting that the pandemic-induced shifts would become permanent.

Overall, the luxury goods that saw the greatest price falls in U.S. dollar terms were ladies' shoes (-11.7%), hotel suites (-9.3%), and wine (-5.3%). Business class flights (11.4%), whisky (9.9%), and watches (6.6%) saw the biggest increase.

Asia wealth trends to watch

Asia is expected to maintain its stronghold as the world's most expensive region for the wealthy over the coming years, as its economic growth continues apace, the report noted.

India — currently home to one of the region's more affordable global cities, Mumbai — will be one of the countries leading that charge, said Mark Matthews, head of research Asia-Pacific, Bank Julius Baer.

India is going to get more expensive. Now it's a bargain.
Mark Matthews
head of research (Asia Pacific), Bank Julius Baer

"India's growth rate is going to increase," he said. "India is going to get more expensive. Now it's a bargain."

China, meanwhile, will remain the world's preeminent luxury goods market as the Chinese affluent consumer takes hold, he said. By 2025, China is expected to account for 47%-49% of the luxury goods market, versus America's 16%-18% and Europe's 12%-14%.

Two other trends could change the way in which wealthy individuals spend their money in the coming years, however, the report added: conscious consumption and a preference for experiences over goods.

"We believe the conscious consumption lifestyle has gone truly mainstream," said Manwani. As such, people may cut down on long-haul flights and begin buying electric vehicles, changing their diets and rejecting fast fashion.

"Zillennials are keen on this trend," he said, referring specifically to Generation Z consumers.

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