The Geopolitics of Wealth Migration
Misha Glenny, award-winning journalist and a former BBC Central Europe Correspondent, and author of McMafia, now an Emmy-award winning TV drama, and DarkMarket: How Hackers became the New Mafia.
As much of the world awakes from the pandemic, the migration of high-net-worth individuals and private wealth around the world has started to surge. As the Henley Global Citizens Report 2022 Q2 reveals, certain destinations that traditionally attracted wealthy investors, such as the USA, are losing some of their former luster. The UK, which was once a wealth magnet, also continues to see a steady net outflow of millionaires. By contrast, parts of the Middle East, East Asia, and Australasia are the focus of intense interest.
USA has the biggest outflows
Although still the great center of global private wealth, the USA’s ability to attract investment is slowing down markedly if the inflows of high-net-worth individuals are anything to go by. The 2022 provisional data shows net inflows of 1,500 millionaires to America this year compared to 10,800 in 2019.
Europe retains a few wealth hotspots
The EU, however, still boasts a couple of outliers that continue to attract affluent investors, as does Switzerland. Portugal and Greece continue to offer an easy path towards residency and even citizenship to those with sufficient funds, which could explain why they remain in the top 10 list of countries attracting high-net-worth individuals in 2022, with inflows of 1,300 and 1,200, respectively, compared to 1,200 and 1,100 in 2019. Both countries, however, have come under pressure to review their investment migration programs, especially since the invasion of Ukraine and the implementation of unprecedented sanctions against Russia and, specifically, its wealthiest citizens.
UAE surges in popularity
With its zero tax rates, convenient location between Asia and Europe, luxury facilities, and rocketing oil and gas revenues, the UAE has experienced soaring rates of high-net-worth migration, primarily into Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The Henley Global Citizens Report 2022 Q2 projects that 4,000 millionaires will move to the UAE this year, pushing it to the top of the top 10 countries globally in terms of high-net-worth-individual inflows. Affluent Russians seeking to escape the impact of the devastating Western sanctions on their country have started to move to the UAE and to Israel, which is 4th in the top 10 list with an influx of 2,500 high-net-worth individuals, in large numbers.
An underlying pattern was already detectable in advance of the invasion of Ukraine. Well before the imposition of sanctions on the Russian banking system, there was a tsunami of capital leaving the country, largely prompted by the increasingly capricious governing style of President Vladimir Putin and his demands of loyalty made on middle-class and wealthy Russians. After Russian troops crossed the Ukrainian border on 24 February, they have now come under further pressure from many Western countries, such as Britain, where they had earlier made their homes.
The conflict in Ukraine combined with the anti-Covid lockdowns in China are having a massive impact on global supply chains, especially in the food and energy markets. Bear markets have spread out from Wall Street around the world and some analysts are even predicting that the war will mark the end of globalization and a further fragmentation of the markets. Both countries are in the top 10 globally in terms of outflows of high-net-worth individuals. The Henley Global Citizens Report provisional 2022 data indicates 2,800 Ukrainians leaving the country compared to 400 in 2019. While China will lose 10,000 millionaires this year, this is 6,000 fewer than it lost in 2019.
Australasia retains its allure
Two places welcoming nobody during the pandemic were Australia and New Zealand. Although high-net-worth inflows are down in both countries compared to pre-Covid levels, with Australia set to gain 3,500 millionaires in 2022 versus 12,000 in 2019, and New Zealand gaining 800 this year compared to 1,400 pre-pandemic, both remain among the most sought-after destinations in the world. For New Zealand, this is partly down to the Peter Thiel effect, after the Paypal and Palantir co-founder discovered the staggering beauty and exceptional quality of life the country offered and extolled its virtues. But the remarkable success with which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government handled the pandemic has further increased confidence in New Zealand’s resilience.
Ardern has already expressed willingness to work with Australia’s incoming Prime Minister, Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese, who looks likely to form a government without the need for a coalition. The Labor victory has consolidated a sense of optimism in Australasia that is notably absent in other parts of the Western world.
Singapore gains from China’s losses
Although the move of money to Asia remains unstoppable, it is highly differentiated. The high-net-worth inflows and outflows data in the Henley Global Citizens Report shows that Singapore, a consistently appealing destination for wealth, appears to have benefited from China’s crackdown in Hong Kong over the past two years, gaining 2,800 millionaires in 2022 compared to 1,500 in 2019. In 2021, over 100,000 Hong Kong citizens took advantage of Britain’s offer to issue them visas in response to Beijing’s policy of stifling the former British colony’s special status. High-net-worth individuals and bankers are prominent among those who have decided to cut and run, and the data in this report indicates that Hong Kong will see 3,000 high-net-worth individuals leaving this year.
Although in absolute terms China will remain popular, its relative position is slipping and the widespread draconian lockdowns to prevent the spread of Covid in Shanghai and other metropoles will keep people away.
USA private wealth growth likely to remain stagnant
Not that the USA will be able to exploit China’s embarrassment. Its private wealth growth is bound to remain anemic this year as political unpredictability looms. In November, the mid-term elections are likely to return a Republican House and possibly the Senate, too. With culture wars between Democrats and Republicans mounting once more with the leaked decision of the Supreme Court to overturn the Roe vs. Wade ruling on abortions, some fear we are entering another period of dramatic instability such as that which characterized the Trump years. As a consequence, some high-net-worth investors will doubtless think twice before committing their wealth to the Americas.
This essay was first published in the Henley Global Citizens Report Q2 2022.