Healthcare Billionaires Got Nearly $150B Richer Due to COVID Pandemic

Healthcare billionaires have seen their wealth soar since the coronavirus swept the globe.

Billionaires in the healthcare space bumped up their wealth by 36.3 percent between April 7 and July 31, from a total of $402.3 billion to $548 billion, according to a new report by wealth managers UBS and professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. The study looked at the wealth of 2,189 billionaires across the world.

The near-$150 billion premium came as demands for key vaccines, medical equipment and treatments increased, with health services across the world left reeling due to ballooning case numbers.

The wealth increase widens when you compare the healthcare sector from the beginning of 2018 to the end of July 2020. Over that period, total wealth held by 1,690 healthcare billionaires included in the study increased by 50.3 percent to $658.6 billion. The study excluded dropouts and new entrants.

The report says healthcare wealth was "boosted by a new age of drug discovery and innovations in diagnostics and medical technology, as well as latterly COVID-19 treatments and equipment."

In the same period (January 2018 to July 2020), technology billionaires' total wealth rose by 42.5 percent to $1.8 trillion, supported by a surge in tech shares.

The increase is smaller for the billionaire class as a whole. It rose by 19.1 percent to $10.2 trillion from the start of 2018 to July 2020.

The net wealth of billionaires in entertainment, financial services, materials and real estate sectors lagged the rest of the sphere, with increases of 10 percent or less.

Of the increase, Josef Stadler, head of the Global Family Office unit at UBS Global Wealth Management, said: "This is a key moment in economic history. Scientists, computer programmers and engineers are revolutionizing industries at a pace never seen before and they are having a profound impact on the whole of the global economy.

"From AI to 3D printing, from nanotechnology to biotechnology, scientists and serial entrepreneurs are only just beginning to apply and develop radically new products and services that have the potential to reshape the global economy and create tens, or even hundreds of thousands of new jobs as the world rebuilds after COVID-19."

The report puts billionaires' successes down to the fact that they are "innovators" and "disruptors" in both sectors. However, the fact remains that the pandemic has increased the necessity for both functioning healthcare systems and new tech to handle things such as the push to working from home and the creation of test and trace systems.

Healthcare stocks have surged this year, and tend to rally whenever developments in potential COVID-19 treatments or vaccines are announced as investors understand that there's money to be made from vaccines, and that it will improve long-term economic health across the world when it is rolled out.

President Donald Trump had his sights set on at least having answers about a new coronavirus vaccine's efficacy by the time people went to the polls, but it's a timeline that may not play out how the commander-in-chief wants.

The numbers in the report, that show billionaires' wealth swelled to $10.2 trillion, bring into sharper focus economists' worries about the potential for a K-shaped, rather than a V-shaped, economic recovery. A K-shaped recovery is one that sees the rich get richer and those who are less well off find it more difficult to make ends meet.

Coronavirus vaccine
An engineer works in the general laboratory during a media tour of a new factory built to produce a COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at Sinovac, one of 11 Chinese companies approved to carry out clinical trials of potential coronavirus vaccines, in Beijing on September 24, 2020. Healthcare billionaires are set to get richer if they can develop a successful coronavirus vaccine. WANG ZHAO/AFP via Getty Image