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After a year off, millionaires back in bloom

By Hibah Yousuf, staff reporter


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The rich are rich again. After plummeting by a record amount in 2008, the number of millionaires in the world recovered last year despite ongoing weakness in the global economy, according to a new survey.

The number of high net worth individuals, those with assets of $1 million or more, surged by 17.1% in 2009 to 10 million, a survey by brokerage firm Merrill Lynch and consulting firm Capgemini showed. In 2008, the millionaire ranks plunged to 8.6 million worldwide from 10.1 million in 2007.

"The last few years have been significant for wealthy investors," said Sallie Krawcheck, president of global wealth and investment at Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500), parent of Merrill Lynch, in a statement. "While in 2008 global high net worth individuals showed an unprecedented decline, a year later we are already seeing distinct signs of recovery, and in some areas a complete return to 2007 levels of wealth and growth."

Millionaires saw the value of their collective assets climb to $39 trillion, up 18.9% from $32.8 trillion in 2008, thanks to substantial growth in emerging markets, the survey showed.

"The rebound has been, and will continue to be, driven by emerging markets -- especially India and China, as well as Brazil," said Bertrand Lavayssiere, managing director of global financial services at Capgemini. "In fact, Asia-Pacific was the only region in which both macroeconomic and market drivers of wealth expanded significantly in 2009."

The number of millionaires in the Asia-Pacific region in 2009 rose to 3 million, matching the number of high net worth individuals in Europe for the first time ever. And the worth of their assets soared 30.9% to $9.7 trillion, surpassing the $9.5 trillion held by Europe's wealthiest.

The growth of millionaires in Asia-Pacific will likely continue to outpace increases in developed nations in the coming years, led by India and China, the report said. The wealthy in Brazil and Russia are also expected to gain at a fast pace.

But for now, the world's population of millionaires and wealth is still concentrated in the United States, Japan and Germany. And North America remains the single largest home to millionaires, accounting for 31% of the global millionaire population, the report said.

The world's millionaires also became more optimistic in world financial markets last year. They increased their investments in stocks and fixed-income instruments, and reduced their cash holdings.  To top of page

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