Toral Munshi, Head of India Equity Research, Wealth Management, Credit Suisse, spoke to BusinessLine about the investment bank’s new ‘Global Wealth Report 2014’, which focused on wealth inequality. Edited excerpts:

What are the reasons for the sharper rise in Indian individual wealth than in China post-2000? How could inflation skew this statistic?

You have to look at India’s and China’s growth in two phases. If you look at the entire 2000-2014 period, India has outpaced China in terms of growth, especially in constant exchange currency terms.

Pre-crisis, China had a significantly higher growth rate (14.7 per cent vs 11.3 per cent in India at constant exchange rates). But post-crisis, India has grown at a much faster pace. When we evaluate data on India and China in dollar terms, I think there are two things we need to keep in mind:

First, currency movements in India and China differ vastly. Growth trends change significantly if you look at it in US currency terms because China has seen an appreciation in currency while India has witnessed a depreciating trend.

Post-crisis, wealth per adult in India has declined by 1.4 per cent in dollar terms, but grown 4.8 per cent in constant exchange terms. China, on the other hand, has seen a 3.5 per cent dollar growth, but only 1.1 per cent growth at constant exchange rates.

If you look at inflation between 2000 and 2007, China saw an average inflation of around 1.9-2.0 per cent whereas for India, it was 4.7 per cent.

Similarly post-crisis, average inflation in China has been around 3 per cent while in India it accelerated to 9.5 per cent. So in real terms, the wealth increase in China has exceeded India.

Why did India witness a 25 per cent fall in personal wealth in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, compared to 14 per cent globally?

To a large extent, the rupee depreciation was the main reason. The rupee depreciated by over 20 per cent during the period. If we dis-aggregate the wealth data into real and financial assets, financial assets had a 33 per cent fall and non-financial assets de-grew about 24 per cent. Of course, one has to remember that the share of non-financial assets is much higher in India (86 per cent) and therefore the overall decline was 25 per cent. If you look at the global break-up, it was a 17 per cent fall in financial assets and a 10 per cent fall in non-financial assets, but the proportion of financial assets is much higher for the developed nations. In constant currency terms, wealth per adult in India declined 8.4 per cent, while globally it fell by 12 per cent in 2007-08.

Why has median wealth in India failed to regain the levels seen in 2007? Are factors other than dollar appreciation responsible?

It is largely due to dollar appreciation. Wealth per adult in India grew from a base of about $2,040 in 2000 to a peak of $5,400 in 2010. It stands at $4,650 as of mid-2014. In constant exchange rate terms, we have grown every year. The dollar growth has seen a higher volatility and typically if you look at the years when we had sharp fall in asset values, there was a sharper fall in wealth in dollar terms.

More than half of the fall in wealth has been due to the fall in currency and the rest because of the fall in asset prices.

Why has India’s share of the global middle class remained unchanged at 3 per cent in the past decade, according to the report, whereas China’s share has doubled to one-third?

We have to note here that the middle class classification is as per the global norms for wealth and not strictly comparable to the local middle class categorisation, such as say the NCAER (National Council of Applied Economic Research) classification that we normally use to classify the Indian middle class.

Globally, when we talk of middle class, we look at individuals with net worth in the range of $10,000 to $100,000. When you compare the data for India and China, the median wealth is still only $1,006 in India whereas it is $7,033 in China.

So obviously China is ahead of India in terms of absolute wealth per adult and therefore is closer to the global standard of middle class. Theoretically, if you were to classify middle class to a lower definition, say $5,000, then we would have seen a significant number of Indians moving to a higher level in the wealth pyramid.