Code Red


Related links

2018 was a year of loss. We bid tearful goodbyes to Stephen Hawking, Aretha Franklin, George Bush, Kofi Annan and Stan Lee, to name a few.

As if these sentimental losses weren’t enough, we had financial setbacks too last year.

For the first time since the 2008 crisis, the wealth of households declined globally amid political uncertainties and fears of trade war, according to the latest Allianz Global Wealth Report.

The survey of 53 countries showed a 0.1 percent shrinkage in gross financial assets in 2018, a small but meaningful number when you consider the absolute loss – 254 billion euros!

An uglier devil lurked in the details. For the first time in this century, both developed and emerging countries lost wealth at the same time.

China’s sneeze spread the contagion to the entire emerging world. As its war of trade words with the U.S. intensified, the Red Dragon lost 3.4 percent in household assets, pulling down the combined wealth of the emerging world by 0.4 percent versus 0.1 percent for advanced countries.

Furthermore, the narrowing of the wealth gap between rich and poor nations stalled, as did the expansion in the size of the global middle class, according to the report.

“The increasing uncertainty takes its toll,” said Allianz Chief Economist Michael Heise. “Trade is no zero-sum game. Either all are on the winning side – as in the past – or on the losing side – as happened last year. Aggressive protectionism knows no winners.”

allianz global wealth report 2018

Savings increase

Prudence came in adversity.

The lack of clarity drove households to tighten their purses, boosting fresh savings worldwide by a whopping 22 percent to a record high of over 2.7 trillion euros.

If the stock markets had behaved, this would have increased overall wealth by 2 percent. Unfortunately, equities struggled to ignore the U.S.-China love-hate relationship and the Brexit drama, tanking around 12 percent in 2018. For households, the fall in the price of assets, mainly equities, eroded value by a huge 3 trillion euros.

Surprisingly, the leaders of the frugality brigade were the Americans – a population known for its rather generous approach to money.

Fresh savings by the Americans jumped 46 percent to 1.8 trillion euros, accounting for two-thirds of savings in the industrialized world last year. Whatever extra the U.S. tax reform brought their way, the Americans swept into investments.

However, long-term savings seem to have been put on the backburner. Insurance and pensions accounted for just a quarter of the total fresh savings in 2018, compared with nearly half before and immediately after the crisis.

While the Americans invested, the rest of the world continued to play safe, parking its money mostly in bank deposits for the eighth straight year.

“It is a paradox savings behavior,” says Allianz economist Michaela Grimm. “Many people save more because they expect a longer and more active life in retirement. At the same time, they shun exactly those products that offer effective old-age protection, namely life insurances and annuities. The world needs nothing more than long-term savers and investors to deal with all the upcoming challenges.”

allianz global wealth report 2018

Debt high but stable

Households didn’t quite stop living on borrowed money in 2018 but the growth in debt slowed slightly to 5.7 percent from 6.0 percent in the preceding year.

However, overall debt ratio – household borrowings expressed as a percentage of economic output – was stable at a little over 65 percent.

An outlier was Asia, excluding Japan. Debt ratio continued its upward trajectory in the region - a worrisome trend of the past three years that is reminiscent of what happened in the U.S. before the subprime crisis. In China, debt ratio stood at 54 percent, somewhat higher than the 52.4 percent for the entire region. 

Stuck in the middle

For the first time in over a decade, the global wealth middle class did not enlist new members. 2018 closed with roughly 1,040 million in this category, nearly unchanged from 2017-end.

No surprises there though. China has been leading the emergence of the new global middle class. Almost half of the members of this category – and a quarter of the upper class – are from the country.

However, Allianz economist Arne Holzhausen sees the glass as half-full. “There are still plenty of opportunities for global prosperity. If other heavily populated countries such as Brazil, Russia, Indonesia and in particular India would have had a level and 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.” If this happens, continues Arne, wealth would be distributed a little more equally across the world.

At the end of 2018, the world’s richest 10 percent people owned about 82 percent of global wealth. “Questioning globalization and free trade now deprives millions of people around the world of their opportunities for advancement,” he adds.

Still, we are much better off than we were at the beginning of the century. 

The great divide

The past two decades were an equality warrior’s delight. The gap between the rich and the poor narrowed, driven by large strides in income gains in developing nations.

2017 and 2018 were bumps in the road. Wealth in emerging countries grew slower than in advanced markets, keeping the share of developing regions in global wealth flat at around 18 percent last year. 

The richest of them all

Amid the gloom, who was the richest of them all? Uncle Sam!

The U.S. bumped Switzerland off the top spot in the list of richest countries, reclaiming the position it lost in 2017. Over the last two decades, the biggest losers in the rankings were Italy, France and Belgium while the largest gainers were Singapore, Taiwan, Sweden, Australia and South Korea.

Germany more or less maintained its position.

North America remained the richest region in the world, with average per capita assets of 173,850 euros after accounting for debts. In contrast, Eastern Europe was the poorest with per capita income of 4,430 euros.

For a full picture of the money trends last year, click here for the latest Allianz Global Wealth Report

The Allianz Group is one of the world's leading insurers and asset managers with more than 100 million retail and corporate customers in more than 70 countries. Allianz customers benefit from a broad range of personal and corporate insurance services, ranging from property, life and health insurance to assistance services to credit insurance and global business insurance. Allianz is one of the world’s largest investors, managing 766 billion euros on behalf of its insurance customers. Furthermore, our asset managers PIMCO and Allianz Global Investors manage 1.7 trillion euros of third-party assets. Thanks to our systematic integration of ecological and social criteria in our business processes and investment decisions, we hold the leading position for insurers in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. In 2019, over 147,000 employees achieved total revenues of 142 billion euros and an operating profit of 11.9 billion euros for the group.

These assessments are, as always, subject to the disclaimer provided below.

Press contacts

Lorenz Weimann
Allianz SE
As with all content published on this site, these statements are subject to our cautionary note regarding forward-looking statements:

Further information

Allianz Global Wealth Report 2020: Year of the Rich

A year to miss for several reasons, 2019 was also when global wealth jumped to a new record high. But not everyone benefited. And a positive trend towards financial equality reversed, according to the Allianz Global Wealth Report 2020...

Companies face five liability risk trends in the face of the coronavirus pandemic

Liability exposures for companies around the world are increasing. Factors such as rising litigation, collective redress and large court verdicts, costly and frequent recalls in the automotive and food sectors, the disruptive impact of civil unrest and riots in a growing number of countries, and environmental concerns such as indoor air quality and higher fines and remediation standards will likely impact businesses and their insurers in future, according to a new report from AGCS...

Europe: Post-corona pulse check

In the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, what’s the mood in Germany, France and Italy? More pessimistic than earlier believed, finds the latest Allianz Pulse. Surprisingly, digitalization has slipped in the priority list of these Europeans but climate change remains their concern...