The global recession has reversed for now what had seemed like the inevitable rise of the super-rich.
According to the 2009 World Wealth Report from Capgemini and Merrill Lynch, the world's population of "high new worth individuals" fell an unprecedented 14.9 percent in 2008 versus 2007. In North America, so-called HNWIs declined 19 percent.
The New York Times ran a lengthy feature about wealthy households hitting a "wall," on Aug. 20. The 2009 World Wealth Report cited in the article was published in June, based on 2008 data.
The study defines HNWIs as having investable assets of at least $1 million, not counting the value of their primary residence, or a few other classes of assets. The study also looks at "ultra-HNWIs," with investable assets of at least $30 million.
For years, the rise of the wealthy kept luxury-car sales growing even when mass-market cars slowed. At the beginning of this decade, every major auto manufacturer had big plans to expand luxury-car sales.
The growth of HNWIs was one of those long-term trends, like "miles driven," measured by the Federal Highway Administration, that for a long time seemed to indicate people would keep right on buying cars, despite high gas prices and even a U.S. recession.
However, luxury-car sales have hit the skids this year, too.
The good news in the 2009 World Wealth Report is that Capgemini and Merrill Lynch expect the wealthy class to bounce back stronger than ever in the next couple of years.
The report also notes that as a percentage of what the report calls "investments of passion," the category that includes automobiles (maroon in the diagram) is as big as ever. The bad news is that's a constant slice of a smaller number.
Chart: 2009 World Wealth Report, Capgemini and Merrill Lynch