China’s elite lost $530 billion in 2018

Huaqiangbei Commercial Street, China—a popular destination for electronics shoppers.
Huaqiangbei Commercial Street, China—a popular destination for electronics shoppers.
Image: Reuters/Thomas Peter
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Trade tensions with the US gripped the Chinese economy during 2018, and as growth sputtered worldwide, China’s wealthy lost nearly $530 billion, likely because of a dip in the country’s stock market.

After seven years of increases in the number of high-net-worth individuals (HNWI), approximately 100,000 people fell from the global elite between 2017 and 2018, with the Asia-Pacific region hit the worst. Wealth among the rich in the Asia-Pacific region fell $1 trillion—from $21.6 trillion to $20.6 trillion—according to the 2019 World Wealth report from Capgemini, a French consulting firm.


In particular, China’s upper crust lost out. Between 2010 and 2014, individuals with investable assets greater than 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) roughly doubled, to more than one million people. But between 2017 and 2018, close to 67,000 of them dropped out of the ranks of China’s most affluent ranks. China accounted for about 53%—or $530 billion—of the Asia-Pacific region’s $1 trillion wealth decline, and it appears the country’s stock market is to blame.

China’s equity markets declined by 25% last year, as measured by the Shanghai Shenzhen composite, and they suffered through a 10% decline in the fourth quarter alone.

The drop in Chinese high-net-worth individuals “is a knock-on effect of the drop in the Chinese stock market over the course of 2018 and to a lesser extent of the yuan’s depreciation against the US dollar over the same period,” observed William Adams, senior international economist for PNC Financial Services Group.

The yuan’s depreciation “was mostly caused by the deepening trade conflict between China and the United States,” he told Quartz. “Chinese markets lost more than $2.5 trillion in market capitalization due to uncertainties in US-China relations and pressure on the yuan.”

Although the Chinese government manages the yuan’s exchange rate, the currency “increasingly looks like a market-determined free floating currency and less like a pegged currency,” Adams added. Breaking with their typical behavior, in 2018, Chinese policymakers “allowed market forces to push the yuan weaker, in part because its depreciation offset some of the effect of US tariffs on Chinese exporters.”

While many investors were hurt by 2018’s downturn, the Chinese market has bounced back in 2019. The Shenzhen composite index is up 28% on the year.