Explosion of Asian riches

Explosion of Asian riches
Shoppers outside luxury retail stores in a shopping mall along Singapore's Orchard Road, the city-state's largest commercial area. The sale of luxury goods in Singapore is expected to reach S$2.7 billion this year.

No matter how you try to measure it, Asians are becoming wealthier.

Fly into any capital city in the region and at once you will be struck by the display of wealth. From flashy condominiums to shopping precincts that cater to the surging middle class, Asia's affluent are growing.

It has been estimated by HSBC that by 2015 financial wealth in China will overtake Japan's, while emerging Asia is on course to eclipse the United States.

Singapore is being tipped to overtake Switzerland as the wealth capital of the world within this decade.

The value of China's residential real estate has now surged past Japan's while Chinese investors have become the biggest foreign buyers of apartments in New York, Sydney and London.

Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian economic research with HSBC, says it is hard to overlook Asia's rising wealth.

He does make the point, however, that not everyone in Asia is reveling in new-found wealth.

"Amid all the hype, it's often forgotten that the majority of people in the region continue to live in poverty, with those fancy bags, let alone more basic necessities, still a distant dream," Neumann says.

Abhineet Kaul, principal consultant with Frost & Sullivan, says that in any capitalistic society, "some inequality driven by innovation, growth and investment is healthy as it rewards individual initiative and enterprise".

"However, this growing chasm is a concern for Asia because on the one hand, this divide is an outcome of economic growth, yet on the other the region remains home to more than 1.7 billion surviving in poverty," he tells China Daily.

"As history has shown, extreme wealth inequality can often precipitate social instability and it has been at the heart of political upheavals."

In the Philippines, for example, it has been estimated that just 40 of the country's richest families account for an estimated 76 per cent of the country's GDP.

The top 40 account for 34 per cent of the GDP in Thailand, 5.6 per cent in Malaysia and 2.8 per cent in Japan.

Even if prosperity is, so far, only enjoyed by a small sliver of local populations, the rise of Asian wealth that powers those luxury sales has nevertheless been stupendous.

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