Global financial assets fall, SL economy slows: Report

Sri-Lanka

Sep 20, 2019 (LBO) – Allianz’s Global Wealth Report, which puts the asset and debt situation of households in more than 50 countries/regions under the microscope says financial assets in 2018 across industrial and emerging countries/regions declined simultaneously for the first time.

Savers worldwide have found themselves in a bind, due to the escalating trade conflict between the US and China, Brexit and increasing geopolitical tensions, the tightening of monetary conditions and the (announced) normalization of monetary policy.

The stock markets reacted accordingly, with global equity prices falling by around 12% in 2018, which had a direct impact on asset growth. Global gross financial assets of private households[1] fell by 0.1% and remained more or less flat at EUR 172.5 trillion.

“The increasing uncertainty takes its toll”, said Michael Heise, chief economist of Allianz Group. “The dismantling of the rule-based global economic order is poisonous for wealth accumulation. The numbers for asset growth also make it evident: Trade is a no zero-sum game. Either all are on the winning side – as in the past – or all are on the losing side – as happened last year. Aggressive protectionism knows no winners.”

Sri Lanka: Slowdown in growth

Although Sri Lanka’s economy faced external headwinds in 2018, it expanded by 3.2%, only slightly below the rate of 2017 (3.3%). The inflation rate also declined to 4.3%. Against this backdrop, deposit growth moderated, too: Bank deposits increased by 14.8%, against 17.5% in 2017. Growth in bank loans, on the other hand, accelerated from 16.1% to 19.6%. This double-digit growth in loans and deposits gives witness to the rapid progress of Sri Lanka’s economy toward more inclusive growth. Over the last decade, for example, the poverty ratio has dropped by whopping 10 percentage points to around 4%, one of the lowest in South Asia.

Convergence between poorer and richer countries/regions comes to a halt

“Debt dynamics in Asia and particularly in China are concerning”, commented Patricia Pelayo Romero, Allianz Group Economist and co-author of the report. “Chinese households are already relatively as indebted as, say, German or Italian ones. The last time we had to witness such a rapid increase in private indebtedness was in the USA, Spain and Ireland shortly before the financial crisis. However, compared to most industrialized countries, debt levels in China are still markedly lower. There is still time to cope with the development and avoid a debt crisis.”

Because of the strong growth in liabilities, net financial assets i.e. the difference between gross financial assets and debt, fell worldwide by 1.9% to EUR 129.8 trillion at the close of 2018. Emerging countries/regions in particular suffered a drastic decline: Net financial assets shrank by 5.7% (industrialized countries/regions: -1.1%); Asia (ex Japan) posted a decline of 6.0%.

Singapore takes the crown from Japan

The ranking of the richest countries/regions (financial assets per capita, see table for the top 20) is again topped by the USA, replacing Switzerland, not least thanks to the strong dollar. And Singapore climbed to third place in 2018, capturing, for the first time, the crown as the richest country/region in Asia. Taking a longer-term view by looking at how the list has changed since the turn of the century, the rise of Asia becomes evident: The big winners include first and foremost Singapore (+13 places) and Taiwan (+10 places) as well as – last year’s setback notwithstanding – China (+6 places) and South Korea (+5 places).

Just a bump in the road?

For the first time in over a decade, the global wealth middle class did not grow: At the end of 2018, roughly 1,040 million people belonged to the global wealth middle class – which is more or less the same number of people as one year before. Against the backdrop of shrinking assets in China, this does not come as a big surprise. Because up to now the emergence of the new global middle class was mainly a Chinese affair: Almost half of their members speak Chinese as well as 25% of the wealth upper class.

“There are still plenty of opportunities for global prosperity”, said Arne Holzhausen, Allianz Group Head of Insurance & Wealth Markets and co-author of the report. “If other heavily populated countries such as Brazil, Russia, Indonesia and in particular India would have a level distribution of wealth comparable to China, the global wealth middle class would be boosted by around 350 million people and the global wealth upper class by around 200 million people. And the global distribution of wealth would be a little more equal: at the end of 2018, the richest 10% of the population worldwide owned roughly 82% of total net financial assets. Questioning globalization and free trade now deprives millions of people around the world of their opportunities for advancement.”