WASHINGTON — The ranks of Burma’s super rich will increase at least six-fold in the coming decade as one of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries emerges from military dictatorship and embraces a market-oriented economy, according to a new report.
Wealth-X, a firm which gathers intelligence on wealth, estimates in its World Ultra Wealth Report that there are 40 individuals in Burma currently who have assets worth $30 million or more. It sees that number growing by 687 percent to 307 by 2022, the fastest pace of growth anywhere in the world.
Burma’s hotel industry, commodities especially lumber and finance and banking sectors are growing very rapidly and this will expand the ranks of the country’s ultra wealthy over the coming decade, said Mykolas Rambus, CEO of Wealth-X.
“When a market opens up to this degree as we are seeing in Myanmar [Burma], when there is a change in leadership, where there is a large population and it is located in Asia, there is immense new opportunity,” Rambus told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Burma also has significant problems of inequality. Twenty six percent of its population live in poverty, 75 percent lack access to electricity and the average per capita national income is $800 to $1,000 a year, according to the World Bank. The United Nations lists Myanmar in the bottom ranks for quality of life at 149 out of 186 countries in its 2013 Human Development Report, which measures factors such as inequality, education, healthcare, income and social opportunities.
However, the country is one of the most dynamic in Asia. Foreign investors are flocking there to take advantage of its immense natural resource wealth in oil and gas reserves, precious gems, timber, water and farmland as the former military dictatorship begins to privatize assets. The economy is expected to grow by 7 to 8 percent a year over the decade, and the Asia Development Bank estimates Burma could triple per capita income by 2030.
The question is whether this growth will benefit the majority of the population, Rambus said. “There is a question: Will this wealth stay in the hands of a few, or will Burma provide opportunities for the wealth to trickle down?”
Indonesia, for example, saw rapid economic growth as it democratized but wealth has remained relatively concentrated in a few hands. Russia since the collapse of communism has seen a large wealthy class emerge, but its middle class has not developed as rapidly.
Most of Burma’s richest people hold their assets in the form of private residences and ownership of private companies, Rambus said.
Wealth-X compiles its survey of the world’s ultra wealthy, those with at least $30 million in net worth, through in-country intelligence and by reviewing a mixture of public and private records. It assesses the worth of privately held assets by comparing their value against that of publicly traded ones in the same sector and region.
In its most recent survey, North America continued to lead the world in the number of ultra wealthy, with 65,295 super rich holding a combined net worth of $8.88 trillion. The number of super rich grew by 3.3 percent between 2012 and 2013, the Ultra Wealth Report found.
Africa saw the greatest percentage increase in the ranks of ultra wealthy in the developing world over the past year, up 5.1 percent to 2,535 people with net holdings of $325 billion, it said.