Times of India Column
WASHINGTON: India, with the world's largest population of poor people living on less than a dollar a day, also paradoxically created millionaires at the fastest pace in the world in 2007 even though the world grew such "high net worth individuals (HNWIs)" at the slowest pace in four years. Growing them at a blistering pace of 22.7 per cent, India added another 23,000 more millionaires in 2007 to its 2006 tally of 100,000 millionaires measured in dollars, according to an annual Merrill Lynch Cap Gemini report that weighs such financial information for its wealth and asset management purposes. In contrast, developmental agencies put the number of subsistence level Indians living on less than a dollar a day at 350 million and those living on less than $ 2 a day at 700 million. In other words, for every millionaire, India has about 7000 impoverished people. While India's HNWI population growth of 22.7 per cent in 2007 exceeded China's 20.3 per cent and its own 2006 gains of 20.5 in 2006, it was still way below its giant neighbour in absolute number of millionaires. China counted nearly 500,000 HNWIs. Overall, the numbers of millionaires (not counting home values in their assets) in the world grew at 9.4 per cent and crossed the 10 million mark for the first time. The United States, despite its economic woes, led the pack of Richie Rich's with more than three million millionaires, i.e., one in every three millionaires in the world lives in America. The combined wealth of the globe's millionaires grew to nearly $41 trillion last year, which means their average wealth was more than $4 million, the highest it's ever been. In measuring the millionaire mob in India, the Merrill Lynch Cap Gemini report looked at metrics for the year 2007, which means it did not take into account the precipitous stock market slide that has wiped out nearly a third of the market value in 2008. "India led the world in HNWI population growth at 22.7 percent, driven by market capitalization growth of 118 percent and real GDP growth of 7.9 percent. Although India's real GDP growth decelerated from 9.4 percent in 2006, current levels are considered more stable and sustainable," the report observed. It also ranked India's two largest exchanges – the Bombay Stock Exchange and the National Stock Exchange – among the world's top 12 exchanges by end of 2007, "with growth rates of 122% and 115% respectively....that were boosted by initial public offering markets and heightened international interest." Explaining the faster rate of growth of millionaires in India than in China, the report suggests that as market capitalization and real GDP in China were spread over a larger population, there were smaller per capita gains in China. In 2006, India had a larger market capitalization growth than gross national income, significantly impacting HNWI population growth. In addition, it said, China is currently experiencing explosive growth in its "mass affluent" population, which has yet to break the HNWI threshold of US$1million. The observation also suggests China is having greater equitable growth than India.