Economy Watch: Millionaires’ Ranks Grow; Conference Board’s Indexes Rise

The millionaire boom comes against a backdrop of increasing aggregate wealth worldwide, according to a report from Boston Consulting Group.

Boston Consulting Group, in its Global Wealth 2014 report released this week, said that the number of millionaire households (measured in U.S. dollars) reached 16.3 million worldwide in 2013, up considerably from 13.7 million in 2012 and representing 1.1 percent of all households globally. The U.S. had the highest number of millionaire households (7.1 million), as well as the most new millionaires (1.1 million), most of that increase coming from steady gains in equities markets last year.

Robust wealth creation in China was reflected by its rise in millionaire households from 1.5 million in 2012 to 2.4 million in 2013, a figure that puts China ahead of Japan. By contrast, the number of millionaire households in Japan fell year-over-year from 1.5 million to 1.2 million, but that was largely a function of currency movements, rather than an economic slump; the yen fell 15 percent against the dollar last year.

The millionaire boom comes against a backdrop of increasing aggregate wealth worldwide, according to BCG. Globally, the volume of privately held wealth rose by $19.3 trillion in 2013, nearly twice the increase of $10.7 trillion seen in 2012. As usual, North America (at $50.3 trillion) and Western Europe ($37.9 trillion) remained the world’s wealthiest regions, followed closely by the Asia-Pacific region (excluding Japan) at $37 trillion. Asia-Pacific, which in 2008 had 50 percent less private wealth than North America, has since cut that gap in half.

Leading Economic Indicators Rise

The Conference Board reported on Thursday that its Leading Economic Index increased 0.5 percent in May to 101.7 (2004 = 100), following a 0.3 percent increase in April, and a 1 percent increase in March. The organization’s Coincident Economic Index was up 0.3 percent in May to 109.0 (2004 = 100), following a 0.2 percent increase in April.

Recent data suggest that the U.S. economy is finally moving from a 2 percent growth trend toward a more robust expansion, the Conference Board asserts. The Coincident Index shows the pace of economic activity continued to gain traction in May, while the trend in the Leading Index remains positive.

“May’s increase in the [leading index], the fourth consecutive one, was broad based,” Ataman Ozyildirim, an economist at the Conference Board, noted in a statement. “Housing permits held the index back slightly but the [leading index] still points to an expanding economy and its pace may even pick up in the second half of the year.”

Unemployment Claims Drop

The U.S. Department of Labor reported on Thursday that for the week ending June 14, the annualized rate of initial unemployment claims was 312,000, a decrease of 6,000 from the previous week. The four-week moving average was 311,750, down 3,750 from the previous week’s revised average. Unemployment claims at these levels are considered consistent with reasonably normal employment growth.

Wall Street ended the day mixed on Thursday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 14.84 points, or 0.09 percent, and the S&P 500 gaining 0.13 percent. The Nasdaq dropped a scant 0.08 percent.