The 5 Richest Countries in the World

The recession has taken a toll on economies around the world, from driving down standards of living to sending unemployment to record levels. Through it all, however, some nations' people have emerged stronger and wealthier than ever before. Is there a trend among the richest countries on the planet, and can investors benefit from these economies' gains?

Compiled from data from the International Monetary Fund's 2013 estimates, here are the richest five nations among the world's 50 largest economies, sorted by GDP per capita and adjusted for purchasing-power parity. While at least one expected name makes the list, a few may surprise you.

No. 5: Switzerland, $46,474 per person
Kicking off the list is Europe's second-wealthiest country, Switzerland. The Swiss economy has performed remarkably well despite its proximity to recession-battered European nations. Switzerland's GDP grew 3% in 2010 and an estimated 0.9% in 2012. Those aren't eye-popping numbers, but compared to Europe's far-reaching contraction, it's a relieving dose of stability. Swiss citizens have gained from the country's notoriety as a tax haven, and the country's forward-looking moves -- such as its preliminary agreement to a free-trade deal with China -- should only benefit its economy in coming years. The IMF expects Switzerland's GDP per capita to rise to more than $54,000 by 2018.

Investors can get in on the country's good fortune as well. Swiss drugmaker Novartis (NYSE: NVS  ) has been a standout stock among big pharmas, with shares gaining more than 45% over the past year. Novartis' future is bright with drugs such as its oral multiple-sclerosis medication Gilenya, which analysts have pegged to gain peak sales of between $2 billion and $3.5 billion. Among Swiss stocks, Nestle (NASDAQOTH: NSRGY  ) , which has seen its shares gain 20% over the past year, is poised to become a leader among the growing infant-nutrition business. Infant nutrition has risen especially sharply in emerging markets such as China, and Nestle's one of the top players poised to capitalize. Investors have plenty to pick from in this wealthy nation.

No. 4: United Arab Emirates, $49,883 per person
A few Middle Eastern nations have profited in a big way from the region's oil bounty, but few have done so as successfully -- and as publicly -- as the UAE. Dubai, the country's largest city, has exploded into a desert metropolis as the nation's citizens have enjoyed top-tier gains in standards of living. The nation's still in the middle of developing, with tourism playing an important role in the country's economic growth. Foreign investment has also supercharged the country's economy, with more than $10 billion in foreign investment entering the country in 2011. The IMF's estimates are optimistic: The organization expects the UAE's GDP per capita to grow to more than $57,000 by 2018.

The nation's rise has been a boon for the country's markets, which recently hit multiyear highs. While investing in this rising star isn't so easy as investing in an established nation such as Switzerland, Middle East ETFs such as the Market Vectors Gulf States Index ETF (NYSEMKT: MES  ) offer exposure to the brightest growth story in the region. Almost 30% of this ETF's exposure is concentrated in the UAE, the second-leading nation in the ETF and trailing only Kuwait.

No. 3: United States, $51,248 per person
I think most investors will recognize this nation. For all the hits the U.S. economy has taken throughout its slow recovery from the depths of the recession, the average American still lives a remarkably wealthy lifestyle. Falling unemployment, which declined to 7.5% recently, and the country's housing rebound have helped America dig out of the economic doldrums. The IMF expects good things ahead for the U.S., predicting a per-capita GDP of more than $63,000 by 2018. While challenges remain for the U.S., the country's GDP continues on an upward track despite the recent tax increases and implementation of sequestration.

If you're looking to take advantage of the U.S.' economic growth, look no further than the housing recovery. Home improvement retailers such as Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) and Lowe's (NYSE: LOW  ) are at the center of this trend. Home Depot has done well by growing its profit and return on equity, and it grew sales by 14% in its most recent quarterly report -- although the stock's run-up of 63% over the last year gives pause. Lowe's smaller size has slowed the company down in relation to Home Depot, and while the stock has done well in gaining more than 50% over the past year, Lowe's will need to pick up same-store sales growth to match Home Depot. Still, both stocks look poised to capitalize on the American economy's resurgent growth.

No. 2: Norway, $56,663 per person
At No. 2, Norway is Europe's wealthiest nation. Like Switzerland, this economy has remained remarkably stable throughout Europe's debt crisis. Norway's GDP grew by 0.7% in 2013's first quarter as the nation's oil resources powered the country's wealth. While some Norwegian experts have warned that the country's dependence on oil and energy could hurt its future, Norway's doing well right now: Projections peg the country's mainland economy to grow by 2.75% this year.

The IMF's certainly bullish, projecting Norway's GDP per capita to grow to nearly $66,000 in 2018, maintaining its lead over the U.S. While Norwegian companies are hard to find on American stock exchanges, one low-risk way to gain Norwegian exposure is to buy shares in the main Big Oil firms. BP (NYSE: BP  ) and many of its competitors engage in exploration and drilling in the North Sea. Out of all the oil majors, however, BP may be the one stock to avoid in Norway: A government agency pushed a safety review on the company in late April following a leak at one of BP's North Sea fields last September. For now, expect this company to remain closely watched in Norway.

No. 1: Singapore, $61,567 per person
The wealthiest nation in the world's top 50 economies has been one of the hottest growth stories in recent years. Singapore's emergence as a business hub and tax haven -- research firm WealthInsight predicts that the country will surpass Switzerland as the world's largest offshore wealth hub by 2020 -- has been a boon for its population's standard of living. Foreign investment has poured into the nation, turning Singapore into Southeast Asia's pre-eminent economy. The country is expected to gain even more in the next few years, with the IMF expecting Singapore's GDP per capita to rise to an astounding $77,000 by 2018.

The iShares MSCI Singapore Index Fund (NYSEMKT: EWS  ) has performed well alongside the country's growth, gaining more than 22% over the past year. The ETF is weighted heavily toward finance and real estate, with more than half of its assets in those two sectors. While the Singapore ETF will likely continue to rise with the nation's economy, don't expect rapid gains from an index fund like this.

A global economy on the upswing
As the world claws out of the depths of the 2008 recession, standards of living are poised to continue increasing around the globe. That's good for the world's population and investors alike as stocks take advantage of this new wave of growth. This is the kind of growth everyone has a stake in.

Profiting from our increasingly global economy can be as easy as investing in your own backyard. The Motley Fool's free report "3 American Companies Set to Dominate the World" shows you how. Click here to get your free copy before it's gone.


Read/Post Comments (28) | Recommend This Article (48)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 10:18 AM, stevmg wrote:

    Wrong data presented here. What is more important is the MEDIAN income of these countries or even MODAL incomes (most frequent incomes). The US median income is dropping. We have more billionaires but a whole lot more of poor folks than before. One billionaire can skew the average income of a nation up quite bit.

    It would be interesting to compare MEDIAN INCOMES or MODAL INCOMES of countries and see where we all stand.

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 10:25 AM, pepelay wrote:

    Rich at others expenses!First of all we need to return this land back to rightful owners Native American people;Holy bible clearly states that 'Thou shall not Steal'.In North America alone where USA & Canada is plundering more oil than SaudiArabia & Kuwait output, over $3 BILLION daily, as native people remain poorest citizens on their own beloved motherland.Before Europeans came,Native population in North&South America Continent was 15 millions; European population in Europe was 30 millions.Today, native population at 30 million and Europeans at 1 BILLION! [Google 'sicko uncle Sam' at forum]

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 10:55 AM, Ronmc2 wrote:

    "have populations that enjoy the benefits of a strong economy."

    Because the 2009 Summer of Recovery is coming soon to the USA?

    By that quote, China has enjoyed the most change.

    Did you also notice that the other 4 countries(forget the bogus inclusion of the USA) have homogenious populations?

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 11:06 AM, tomcansee wrote:

    Your report on Singapore is very misleading. Even with IMF statistics it does not clearly define the real picture. Most Singaporean are struggling to live because of the high cost of living.

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 11:12 AM, mark20102010 wrote:

    FROM EUROPE

    BY THE LAST STATISTIC MADE BY THE EU, THE PRIVATE WEALTH OF FRENCH AND ITALIAN FAMILIES WERE EQUAL TO 175%, GERMANS 126%, BRITISH AND AMERICANS UNDER 1OO%

    AMERICA HAS $ 16.5 TRILLIONS DEBT, 50 MILLIONS OF AMERICANS ARE LIVING UNDER THE LINE OF POVERTY, 1 TO 7 AMERICANS ARE LIVING IN FOOD STAMPS

    THE UNMEPLOYMENT IN AMERICA IS 11.5%

    AND CHECK ON THE WEB THE LIST OF COUNTRIES BY HOME OWNERSHIP BY COUNTRY RATE.

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 11:37 AM, Bree1234 wrote:

    The unemployment rate in the U.S. is very misleading. Unemployment is defined as people actively searching for work, and do not take into consideration the number of people out there that have just plain given up because there are no jobs.

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 12:13 PM, Hessk42 wrote:

    My mouth is still hanging open - this must be a joke right? America, over 16 trillion in debt and climbing, owes China at least over a trillion, and China is not even on this list? You must be kidding me...

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 12:19 PM, NanoSanhareb wrote:

    Singapore? The second part of the name is Poor !, We need to get out of Middle-East mess , we need to raise our economy! United States.

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 12:41 PM, lynxd wrote:

    "has been a boon for its population's standard of living."

    Are you kidding? I know you're supposed to be the Fool but even this is stretching it.

    The ridiculous costs of living, insane immigration policies where the number of actual born and bred citizens are at a record low, overcrowded and faulty public transport, and an income gap so big you can fit all the immigrants inside... the "standard of living" is more like a slowly imploding time bomb than a boon. Only the rich will actually enjoy being in Singapore.

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 1:02 PM, jackrabbitt74 wrote:

    I often confused by the language and phrasing in articles about "Wealthiest Countries".

    As far as my understanding goes, the only nations that fit my definition of ownership of wealth would totalitarian, communist nations that actually own the money.

    Referring to "Wealth" as something a country owns isn't quite correct.

    Countries do have some wealthy citizens, yet that wealth does not belong to the country or fellow citizens of that country.

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 1:03 PM, jackrabbitt74 wrote:

    opp's no edit

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 1:17 PM, norcalguy101 wrote:

    If the United States could just get rid of the fraud, waste and greed of government we would have a higher standard of living above and beyond any other country of the world. The problem is, government has enslaved the poverty class on the backs of the middle class.

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 1:38 PM, JoeyLee wrote:

    Singapore? Yeah, you maybe right but only as far as the government is concerned. The reason the Singaporeans are the most unhappy people in the modern world is that, the common Dingaporean are really really struggling to make both ends meet. They do not enjoy the luxuries and happiness that people in the other rich countries enjoy, one is freedom. There is no freedom in that tiny nation-city. The government has no welfare program for the senior citizens, when a citizen gets sick, he is on his own. Real properties cost sooo much, that most people have no choice but to live in the government social housing, a situation which were very far from the standards seen in other rich nations.

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 1:41 PM, patrickrenman wrote:

    The US is not even in the top 10. Most nations have national child care, health care, national universities and do not pay real estate taxes on their primary residences. The Europeans make 30-60k a year, depending oh now many children they have...

    They dwarf what we make... Propaganda

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 1:45 PM, patrickrenman wrote:

    The US is a poor nation if you do an objective study considering national Child care, Health Care, National Universities and no real estate taxes on primary residences in most countries. You can add 30-60 thousand depending on how many children a family has before you add what they make in salary. The US is not even in the top 10 but since we run most of the media and obviously this silly site we can pretty much say what we want. I travel a lot and few countries believe what we say anyway...

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 2:01 PM, Kerryphillips wrote:

    I agree that a median income would be more viable.

    Factor in that our workforce might be 40% of the population, the average income per working person is well over $100k. Try to find a job that pays just half of that amount. USA also has one of the world's highest GINI index. Regan-Bush tax cuts and globalization has driven real wages of working class people in industrialized nations to levels of the 1950's.

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 2:18 PM, jwb3 wrote:

    stevemg, Good point about median incomes.

    1. US 54.450

    4. Switzerland 50,242

    8. Norway 46,163

    UAE, Singapore: Not listed

    Source: OECD 2011 Report

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 2:37 PM, mclee88 wrote:

    @joeylee, disagree. of course every country is going to have its' poor, but that is only one aspect of it. the reason why singaporeans are the most unhappy people in the world is because they OVERVALUE success; they are always striving to be the best. someone once said to me, singaporean men see their self value based on how successful he is, and i think this is very true considering singapore has some of the strictest parents, laws, and is one of the top places for international businesses. obviously this article is based on the rich. do you really think that per-person, people in these countries are making 40-60,000? of course not! and i agree with hessk42's comment, america has trillions in debt with china, yet china is not on here.

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 2:58 PM, luckyagain wrote:

    This article is totally misleading.

    More important than per person income is per family income. How many families of four do you know have an income of over $200,000? Most families are lucky to have a income of $50,000.

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 3:03 PM, pds137 wrote:

    Well, it would be interesting to see how much a $ can buy one of the life essentials such as rent, medical benefit, cost of education, and similar necessities.

    In another words, when you factor in these costs, what exactly is the US standing, where education and healthcare are trillion dollar industries and cost 10x-100x more then in most if not all other modern industrial nations.

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 3:31 PM, nauticaperson wrote:

    Rich in what sense ? Last time I took a business class at school the GNP of Ireland was equivalent to Walmart and that is only one of the U.S stakeholders . We all know U.S is the wealthiest country on earth. In some cases you can put 10 developed countries , still won't be a match to U.S.

    Yes per capita maybe Singapore the riches but in terms of resources and manufactures U.S the wealthiest.

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 5:32 PM, foolstime wrote:

    Are the statistics for the U.S. accurate? Statistics on employment are enormously skewed, and the income of the wealthy is so vast it skews the results upward while the unemployed statistically do not exist.

    The vast poverty and crime in the U.S. is ignored. Yes the glass is half full but the other half ought not to be ignored. If you have visited major cities throughout the U.S. they often appear like cities in poor countries.

    Is this a propaganda piece?

  • Report this Comment On May 20, 2013, at 11:35 AM, Decoy0527 wrote:

    My guess is that the author is more of a USA cheerleader than financial writer. Hard for me to believe this glowing report on USA. Our Fed. government has added $6 trillion of debt in 5 years, and average standard of living is barely holding its own. Maybe the author is like Bernanke in thinking that we can do massive annual borrowing forever without consequence. They are wrong. There will be consequences, only the "when" is unknown.

  • Report this Comment On May 20, 2013, at 1:39 PM, dragonmonkey wrote:

    Good article...20 ignorant comments. How about reading the article before posting? GDP per capita. Adjusted for purchasing-power parity. I'm sorry if you don't like the healthcare system in the US or you think Singapore real estate is expensive...none of that is relevant to the article. If you think China per capita GDP is greater than the US, you are just plain stupid. If you think average wage or median wage or some other statistic paints a better picture, that's nice but doesn't refute anything said in the article.

  • Report this Comment On May 20, 2013, at 4:05 PM, BHead5531 wrote:

    @dragonmonkey

    " 20 ignorant comments. How about reading the article before posting? GDP per capita."

    at least someone noticed this...Seems readers would rather toss out their biased comments before checking to see if they even relate to the article.

  • Report this Comment On May 21, 2013, at 1:29 AM, A2Matty wrote:

    thank you drangonmonkey! I somehow read all of the comments above...one after another waiting for a glimmer of intelligence. it was a painfully long wait. Glad everyone got their political biases into a conversation that was simply about GDP divided by population. Wow.

    The opening of the article says here's some information from the IMF, not "I think this is how we should measure wealth!"

    Interesting info, I would have guessed more middle eastern countries would have made the cut.

  • Report this Comment On May 23, 2013, at 6:30 AM, jt84 wrote:

    @jwb3 - maybe Singapore and UAE are not listed because they are not OECD member countries?? Would be interested to see a proper comparison :) - based on my memory the median income for a Singaporean is about USD2.5k a month or ~USD30k a year

    @lynxd - Singapore has great public transport - while it is currently crowded during rush hour traffic and definitely more can be done, it is only 2 1 hr windows at 8am and 6pm where it gets crowded, and I would rather the government run a prudent budget and not have too much excess capacity just to solve for those 2 hours. And the only reason why you would classify Singapore's public transportation system as "faulty" is because you're too used to the same system hardly having breakdowns in its 20+ years of operation. Travel anywhere else around the world and do an objective comparison - the only place with a better system might be Germany or Japan, and even they suffer from crowded transportation during rush hour. Singapore might not be no.1 - but its probably within the top 5 :)

  • Report this Comment On May 24, 2013, at 3:23 PM, QuandoInQuando wrote:

    The countries mentioned, and so many more, have only a token military budget. They depend upon the United States for any real military protection.

    I think that this should change.

    In addition to not giving free money to people who hate us, we should charge annually for the services of our military might. Any nation who does not pay up front receives no help from us if they are attacked. After all, no one seems to give a flip about us.

    How wealthy would these countries really be if they had to pay all of their own bills?

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