The economic crisis took a harsh toll on the world's wealth, wiping out two years of growth and reducing both the number of high-net-worth individuals and their total wealth to below 2005 levels.

In 2008 the world population of high-net-worth individuals — those with at least $1 million in investable assets excluding primary residences — fell by 14.9%, to 8.6 million, and their wealth dropped 19.5%, to $32.8 trillion, according to the 13th annual World Wealth Report, compiled by Bank of America Corp.'s Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management and Capgemini Group.

In 2007 the high-net-worth population grew by 6%, to 10.1 million. That year marked the beginning of a deceleration in wealth from the 11.4% growth of 2006.

The number of ultra-high-net-worth individuals — those with investable assets of at least $30 million — fell 24.6%, largely because of this group's inclination toward more aggressive products that took hefty losses in 2008, the report said. "This is not surprising given the nearly 50% plunge in global equity market cap and global GDP," said Dan Sontag, president of Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management.

While the world's wealth is still concentrated in three areas — United States, Japan and Germany — the ranks are continuing to shift.

In the United States the number of millionaires fell 18.5%, but the number of high-net-worth individuals there remains the highest in the world, 2.5 million, accounting for 28.7% of the global high-net-worth population.

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