China’s wealthiest citizens had a rough year in 2018, with fewer either becoming or maintaining their status as billionaires due to the country’s slowing economic growth and escalating global geopolitical tensions. The number of Chinese billionaires fell by 48, to 325, last year, according to UBS and PwC Billionaire Insights Report 2019 released on Friday in New York. The report echoed the Hurun Global Rich List released earlier this year that a record number of Chinese billionaires had dropped off the list as slumping stock markets worldwide wiped out a combined US$1 trillion from the fortunes of the world’s wealthiest individuals. As many as 103 Chinese individuals fell off the UBS/PwC billionaires list in 2018, while 56 new names reached the threshold. One Chinese billionaire changed his nationality last year, according to the report. The group’s estimated total net worth also declined by 12.3 per cent in the period, the biggest drop among the wealthy around the world. A depreciation of about 6 per cent in the Chinese yuan against the US dollar accounted for roughly half that slide. The drop in the number of Chinese billionaires and the value in their total assets marked a departure since 2014, when UBS and PwC began tracking billionaires globally, a group which now stands at about 2,100. A record number of Chinese billionaires fall off Hurun’s rich list The correction also highlighted the impact on wealth prolonged geopolitical uncertainties can have, especially when coupled with a slowing domestic economy. “China really had this dramatic incredible trajectory, but in 2018 we’ve seen volatility,” said John Mathews, head of Private Wealth Management at UBS. Globally, total wealth among billionaires was down 4.3 per cent last year. “In 2018, we have seen the escalation of the trade complex, we have seen the Brexit uncertainty, we have seen strong dollar,” said Solita Marcelli, Deputy Chief Investment Officer Americas, UBS Global Wealth Management. “All of those have contributed to the decline of wealth held by billionaires.” The long-term trend for billionaire wealth, however, was more upbeat, the report indicated. Over the period of five years ending in 2018, total wealth was up 34.5 per cent or an increase of US$2.2 trillion among the group worldwide. In China, billionaires’ fortunes nearly tripled over that period to US$982.4 billion at the end of 2018. During that stretch, China became home to the world’s second largest billionaire group behind the US, overtaking Russia. At the end of 2018, one of every eight billionaires on the planet was Chinese, according to the report. “We've seen the emergence of China as a prominent member of this community, displacing Russia,” said Jennifer Gabrielli, Global Chief of Staff at UBS Investment Banking. “Despite these multi-year growth trends, they are not immune to the economic realities,” she said. The report noted, though, that the wealth dip in 2018 could be temporary. China’s richest 400 tycoons shrug off economic slump A report published by Forbes Asia on Thursday showed that the total wealth of the top 10 richest Chinese has already recovered from last year, rising from US$214.7 billion in 2018 to US$246 billion so far this year. Forbes Asia largely attributed the rise to entrepreneurs in the technology sectors such as biotech and China’s fast-growing e-commerce industry, sectors that could rack up large gains despite the continuing geopolitical uncertainties.