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British billionaires suffer £16bn hit to their fortunes

British INEOS Group chairman and billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe looks on prior to the French L1 football match 
British INEOS Group chairman and billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe looks on prior to the French L1 football match  Credit: VALERY HACHE/AFP

Britain's 54 billionaires have taken a £16bn hit as a strong dollar and volatile stock markets caused the wealth of the world's richest people to shrink for the first time in five years.

The fortunes of the world’s richest 2,101 people dropped by more than £300bn, or 4pc, to £6.6 trillion in 2018 as the number of billionaires fell by 57, according to a report from UBS and PwC. It was the biggest drop in wealth since 2008 with about a tenth knocked off the net worth of British billionaires. 

The “billionaire boom” of the past five years “has undergone a natural correction”, said Josef Stadler at UBS Global Wealth Management. “The stronger dollar, combined with greater uncertainty in equity markets amidst a tough geopolitical environment, has created the conditions for this dip.”

Technology was the only sector where billionaires' wealth rose last year, with their net wealth almost doubling in the past five years. 

The number of female billionaires rose marginally faster than men in the last five years, climbing by 46pc compared to 39pc. The UK has the lowest proportion of female billionaires in western Europe, except Ireland, at just 4pc.

Billionaires in the Americas brushed aside the turbulence to enjoy a small rise in their fortunes, boosted by Silicon Valley's tycoons, while Europe, the Middle East and Africa’s wealthiest took a 7pc tumble. 

Asian billionaires suffered the biggest plunge in their net worth with the richest in China enduring a 12pc decline following rapid growth in recent years.

Last year worries about the trade war and rising interest rates at the US central bank triggered sharp falls on stock markets, knocking the value of fortunes amassed by the world's billionaires.

The MSCI World Index, which tracks global stocks, suffered its biggest fall in a decade last year with a 10pc decline, but markets have staged a strong recovery in 2019.

However, billionaires could find their fortunes targeted by politicians in the coming years with leading Democratic presidential candidates outlining plans to clampdown on wealth.

Bernie Sanders, who is running third in Democratic primary polls, said their "should be no billionaires" and vowed to "tax their extreme wealth". Elizabeth Warren, who is leading in some polls, has pledged a wealth tax of up 6pc, prompting criticism from Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

The bank's research also found that companies controlled by billionaires enjoyed stronger returns than the rest of the market over a 15-year period.