Saturday, March 31, 2012

Location, location, location

According to Ledbury Research, there are 63,000 people globally in possession of $100 million or more in assets, with 18,000 centa-millionaires located in South East Asia, China and Japan. That compares with 17,000 in North America and 14,000 in Western Europe. The number of centa-millionaires rose 29% globally between 2006 and 2011, with the U.S. accounting for a 6% rise. The wealth researchers figure that by 2016, the U.S. will still have the most centa-millionaires on a country-by-country basis, with 17,100, but probably not for much longer after that. China, it is assumed, will in that short time double its number of centa-millionaires to 14,000.

Why does London, New York and Paris draw the wealthy take up residence when so many of the capitalists are from the 3rd World. The reason is flight capital. The globe’s rich aren’t really moving to London or New York – they are fleeing their home countries and cities. A multi-millionaire in Moscow, Beijing or São Paolo makes their fortune, the first thing they do is figure out how they can ferret away large chunks of that wealth to countries that guarantee political and personal freedoms, have sound legal systems, a favorable tax environment, good security and good schools for their children. When asked what was the most important factor drawing them to a city, 63% of the globe’s super-rich said “personal security”. Being wealthy in Russia or China or Columbia or Egypt comes at great personal risk. If a wealthy businessman falls afoul of politicians in any of these countries, or attracts the attention of gangsters, it’s in the realm of very real possibilities that they will get a midnight knock on the door. Best to have a bolt-hole beyond the reach of the local thugs, political or otherwise.

In London

But never to be underestimated is the tax regime of the host city-country. That’s an important reason why London continues to keep its top berth. Whether it's a corrupt Middle Eastern dictator in exile, or a Russian oligarch, London will still be the world's No. 1 piece of real estate. In a law passed in 2008, so-called “non-doms” (non-domiciled residents from another country) living in Britain, only pay U.K. taxes on the money they physically bring into the country; any of their wealth parked overseas is simply taxed at a flat £30,000 ($48,000). This “flea-bite” tax for the mega rich, with literally hundreds of millions of dollars or pounds at stake, is now set to rise to £50,000 for any non-dom resident in the U.K. for more than 12 years.

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And in Japan

The collective fortune of Japan’s 40 richest has grown 13% to $93 billion since January 2010, according to Forbes Asia.

Fast Retailing Co.’s chief Tadashi Yanai’s $10 billion nest once again makes him the wealthiest in Japan. The retail king has added two new Uniqlo flagship stores on large stretches of some of the world’s most expensive real estate – Fifth Avenue in New York and Tokyo’s tony Ginza shopping district – his net worth has increased $2.4 billion, according to Forbes’ calculations.

Still, it’s a long way since Japan’s golden age of the 1980s. Japanese businessman Yoshiaki Tsutsumi was the richest person in the world when Forbes launched its list 25 years ago. His net worth in 1987 was $20 billion. The head of the Japanese conglomerate Seibu Corp. and real estate investor held that mantle for four years until he was overtaken by real estate developer Taikichiro Mori. Mr. Tsutsumi reclaimed the throne in 1993, but lost it permanently to a Bill Gates two years later.

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