Southeast Asia Mints More Millionaires

By Eric Bellman, Wall Street Journal

If you’ve been placed on another long waiting list to buy a Breitling or a BMW, it may be because Southeast Asia is spawning a growing number of the world’s newest nouveau riche.

The number of millionaires almost tripled in Singapore over the last year and a half while it came close to doubling in both Indonesia and Malaysia, according to a report this week from Credit Suisse Group.

When compared to the numbers from the report released early last year, those three countries alone have given birth to close to 190,000 new millionaires since the beginning of last year according to the report, which did not give figures for the Philippines or Thailand. That total is short of the 212,000 new millionaires minted in China over the same period but well ahead of the other BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia and India) which had each added less than 100,000 new millionaires.

So where is all the new money coming from? Much of the rise is just a reflection of the weakening dollar, which makes the Singapore dollar- and rupiah-denominated riches look more impressive when translated into U.S. dollars. Otherwise it can be attributed to growing savings, stock and property prices. Credit-Suisse defines wealth as a person’s financial and real estate assets minus their debt.

The number of people with wealth of more than $1 million shot up by 118,000 in Singapore during the period to 183,000, which means the small city state is one of the places you are most likely to randomly bump into a millionaire.

Even the average Singaporean is wealthy compared to the rest of the world. Average household wealth was $285,000 in the middle of this year, the report said. That makes Singaporeans the fifth wealthiest in the world (after Switzerland, Australia, Norway and France.)

Malaysia added 19,000 new millionaires over the 18 months, bringing its total to 39,000. Meanwhile the number of millionaires in Indonesia jumped by 52,000 people to 112,000.  Interestingly, Indonesia had 12 billionaires by the middle of this year, according to Credit-Suisse’s calculations, more than Singapore and Malaysia combined.

Average wealth in Indonesia – which is Southeast Asia’s largest economy but has a population of around 240 million – was lower than its neighbors at around $12,000. That’s still a great improvement from the turn of the century when it was as lows as $2,000.

“The rise in personal wealth in Indonesia has been stunning since the year 2000, with average wealth growing by a factor of five,” the report said.

Strong currencies, rising property prices, climbing commodity prices and healthy stock markets have helped the region but the real secret to Southeast Asia’s success may be how stingy money makers are here.

Average household debt which offsets much of savings and investments in Western countries is very low in the region. It’s only 13% of total assets in Singapore and 2.5% of total assets in Indonesia.