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March 2, 2016, 2:03 p.m. EST

Fewer superrich for the first time since 2008

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By Art Patnaude

The ranks of the global superrich shrank last year for the first time since 2008, a fresh signal that slower economic growth, stock market shocks and weak commodity prices have taken their toll.

The number of individuals with $30 million or more in assets fell 3% in 2015 to about 187,000, according to a report from real-estate broker Knight Frank.

The dip follows years of surging private wealth, with the global population of high-net-worth individuals growing 61% in the last 10 years, according to data in the report from New World Wealth.

Stock market losses were a big driver of depreciating wealth, the report said. A collapse in oil prices hit the super wealthy in the Mideast and Africa, while currency fluctuations also played a role.

Brazil saw a 12% drop in ultrahigh net worth individuals, the data show. In Saudi Arabia, the population of these individuals dropped 8%, Russia 5%, the U.S. 2% and China 1%.

However the retreat is expected to be temporary. The number of superrich will rise 41% by 2025, although "the pace will be significantly slower than the previous 10 years," the report said.

The rise of the superrich over recent years has been a boon for real-estate markets, which have become a popular destination for investment. Since 2009, a quarter of global commercial property investment came from ultra-high-net-worth individuals, the Knight Frank report said.

"Private wealth investors have become far more sophisticated and considered, and are not just hunting for trophy assets," a Knight Frank statement said. "They view commercial property as tangible, controllable, not subject to daily pricing and giving real performance relative to other asset classes."

Last year, the superrich pumped $178 billion into real estate. Hotels were the most popular investment. North America had the highest concentration of private investment. "The increase of inbound capital from Chinese and Middle Eastern investors has been a noticeable, contributing factor," Knight Frank said.

North America has the highest number of ultrawealthy individuals with around 69,300, followed by Europe with 46,200 and Asia with 41,100.

However, over the next decade, the balance is expected to shift, with Asia moving into second place.

Write to Art Patnaude at art.patnaude@wsj.com

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