The number of millionaires hit a three-year low in 2008 as the financial crunch wiped out years of lucrative investment, shrinking the ranks of the very richest by a quarter, a study said on Wednesday.
The joint study by investment group Merrill Lynch and French consultancy Capgemini said the number of millionaires -- termed "high net worth individuals" or HNWIs -- fell by 15 per centworldwide to 8.6 million.
The ranks of ultra-HNWIs -- those with investable assets of 30 million dollars (21 million euros) or more -- fell by nearly 25 per cent.
"The unprecedented declines (in the crisis) wiped out two robust years of growth in 2006 and 2007, reducing both the HNWI population and its wealth to below levels seen at the close of 2005," the companies said in a report.
"World equity markets lost a decade of gains, and volatility reached record levels. Our 2008 findings show HNWIs began to lose trust in the markets, regulators, and, in some cases, their financial advisory firms."
"It was the most well-off people that were the most affected by this decline," said Martina Weimert, an associate director of Capgemini in France, in a statement.
More than half of the world's millionaires were in the United States, Japan and Germany, the report said. China overtook Britain to rank as the country with the fourth biggest headcount of millionaires.
The total wealth of people in the HNWI class -- those with a million or more dollars' worth of investable assets -- declined by a fifth to 32.8 trillion dollars in 2008, down from 40.7 trillion the previous year.