"Unemployment! Jobs! Middle class! Poverty! Gas prices! Social Security! Medicare!" says any candidate, anywhere. And yes, these are important issues to discuss. But even with unemployment still relatively high compared to historic norms, housing prices fighting to stabilize, the fiscal cliff looming, and unending stimulus programs being enacted, don't forget to take a global perspective. Because, from the view of Credit Suisse's Global Wealth Report for 2012 (link opens PDF file), America is pretty well-off by a number of metrics -- and, chances are, so are you.
Relaxing at the top of the pyramid
While "Occupy" protests vilified the 1% last year, at least the American 1% could console themselves in their growing wealth and numbers. America dominated the world by gaining $1.3 trillion in household wealth, with China coming in second, gaining $560 billion. In these cases, wealth is defined as "financial and real assets minus debts." And though America led in total wealth gains, when it comes to percentage growth, Columbia and Algeria trounced both China and the U.S., adding more than 10% to their piles of wealth.
Who lost the most? No surprise that Europe did not fair well. France and Italy lost more than $2 trillion in wealth. And as a proportion, Romania and Hungary both lost more than 25% of their total wealth.
Not only did American wealth grow, but the number of Americans considered in the top 1% of the world also grew. To be in the top 1% required $710,000. The U.S. added about 3.8 million 1%-ers, and despite awful disasters, Japan added about 1 million.
Of course, as Americans and Japanese entered the richest of the rich, others dropped out. Again, it was mostly Europeans hurting: 700,000 Italians, 500,000 Germans, and 440,000 French lost their membership to the 1%.
Selling to the top
A decline in European wealth obviously hurts luxury brands sold overseas, but the rise elsewhere helps offset these losses. This means that global luxury players with their risk spread across many countries don't experience drastic revenue losses. However, they do lose out on pure plays of growth markets. For example, global luxury-goods seller Tiffany's (NYSE: TIF ) first-half comparable-store sales for 2012 were down 6% over 2011 in Europe. This was balanced out by jump of 13% in Japan. Overall sales have grown 4% so far in 2012.
However, jewelry hawker Zales (NYSE: ZLC ) , a company more focused on North America, saw an 8% increase in comparable store sales and similar growth in revenue.
Now, it's about finding where the wealth growth will occur next. Online jeweler Blue Nile (Nasdaq: NILE ) positioned itself to sell globally with its Internet presence, growing customers 32% over the past year, while international sales grew more than 12%. For Blue Nile, the overall luxury market might not matter as much, as its platform offers a chance to steal share from established competitors.
Selling to the bottom
To be in the top half of wealth in the world, you only need $3,700 in assets. And to be in the top 10%: $71,000. While companies can earn plenty selling to the slim segment of the population with the most wealth, they can also try to sell to the billions at the other end of the spectrum and make up for low margins with high volume.
Consumer goods maker Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG ) attempted to sell Pur water purification powder from 2001 to 2005 for $0.10 each and acquired 5% to 10% of the four markets it tested. But the volume needed for these products when sold to the poor, according to Harvard Business Review, requires 30% of a market. So Proctor & Gamble gave up the business and now only sells the product to humanitarian organizations.
On the other hand, Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) has the distribution system and product that lends well to selling to every economic class. In Mexico, the average person consumes an astonishing 665 servings of Coke each year, while Kenyans consume their fair share at 39 servings per year. Of course, Coke is working to make every country as thirsty as Mexico. And with a product that sells for just $0.37 in Kenya, Coke doesn't have to rely on the top 1% to keep generating healthy sales and profits.
There's a whole world out there
It's easy to get mired in your immediate surroundings, whether at the local, state, or even national level. And it's just as easy to base your investments on what you encounter each day. We must remember that there's a whole world out there, with plenty of customers.
For a different perspective on your daily investments, take a look at our free report: "3 American Companies Set to Dominate the World." These companies combine the relative regulatory safety of American companies with the promise of emerging markets. Click here to get your free copy before it's gone.