The world's wealthiest people became wealthier last year in spite of the turmoil in global equity markets, according to a report released yesterday.

Some 7.2m individuals increased their joint fortunes by an average of 6% to $27 trillion (£19 trillion) in 2000, unfettered by declines in most of the world's stock markets.

More new millionaires were created in Europe than any other region of the world, according to the report published by Merrill Lynch and Cap Gemini Ernst and Young.

Tim Taylor, chief marketing officer for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said Britain had been the fastest growing private banking market for Merrill Lynch this year, followed by Germany, France and Italy. Assets held in Merrill's European private banking arm rose 20%in the first four months of this year.

An additional 180,000 people became high net worth individuals (people with investible assets of at least $1m, excluding property) last year. More than a third of these individuals live in North America with a combined wealth of $8.8 trillion.

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