The world's millionaires club is getting bigger – and its members decidedly richer.
The number of people around the globe with at least $1 million in assets swelled by 6 percent last year to 10.1 million, according to the 12th annual World Wealth Report released Tuesday by Merrill Lynch & Co. and Capgemini Group, a consulting firm.
That means an additional 600,000 people became millionaires or richer even as problems tied to the U.S. credit crisis spread in the second half of the year.
The combined wealth of the millionaires club meanwhile grew 9.4 percent to $40.7 trillion. Their average wealth, which didn't include primary homes, surpassed $4 million for the first time.
The super rich – those with at least $30 million – grew by 8.8 percent in population while their accumulated wealth grew by 14.5 percent. This rarefied group controls about a third of the $40.7 trillion.
For such an elite club, 10.1 million may seem like a lot of members. But that's just 0.15 percent of the world's population of 6.7 billion.
When taking into account inflation and the expansion of the world economy, the growth in the number of people with at least $1 million is not surprising, said Brian Bethune, an economist with Global Insight.
An increase of around 15 percent to 20 percent would mark an unexpected jump, he said.
One million dollars in 1996, when the report was first issued, would be worth about $1.3 million in 2007, said Ileana Van Der Linde, a principal with Capgemini.
The 6 percent growth in the number of wealthy individuals – while down from last year's growth of 8.3 percent – is nevertheless significant, Van Der Linde said. The slowest growth in the report's 12-year history was 2.1 percent in 2002.
India, China and Brazil saw the biggest growth rates in the number of wealthy individuals (22.7 percent, 20.3 percent, 19.1 percent, respectively). The United States, Japan and Germany still had the highest number of wealthy individuals, however. The U.S. is home to about a third of those around the world with at least $1 million.
Steady worldwide growth powered the first half of 2007, but more mature markets were hammered in the second half by the U.S. housing and credit crises. Emerging economies were largely unaffected and continued robust growth into the second half of the year, the report found.
“It was a year of two halves. We saw divergent paths starting in July,” Van Der Linde said.
The lag started showing signs of catching up with emerging economies in the beginning of 2008, she said.
The economic slowdown resulted in the wealthy shifting their assets to safer investments, such as cash deposits and fixed-income securities. Those two categories accounted for 44 percent of the world's wealthiest assets, up 9 percentage points from 2006.
The wealth of the world's richest is projected to reach $59.1 trillion by 2012, advancing at a rate of 7.7 percent, according to the report.