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BEING RICH GETTING MORE EXPENSIVE ALL THE TIME

Looking for a nice Monet to hang on the wall? Or a property in one of the better parts of London? Or just assembling a decent wine cellar?

No matter how much money you happen to be making right now, the sad truth is that many of the things you covet most may well remain tantalizingly out of reach.

While central bankers around the world fret about the menace posed by inflation, the people they mostly talk to - the bankers, traders and hedge fund managers - have their own personal cost-of-living issues to grapple with.

Although there has never been a better time to get rich, there has also never been a worse time to actually be rich.

The World Wealth Report, published annually by Cap Gemini SA and Merrill Lynch & Co., in June showed that extraordinarily large sums of money are being made by the wealthiest people.

Yet it showed something else as well: The things they like to buy are getting more expensive all the time.

Property prices in London, and other places where the super-rich congregate, are going through the roof. The average price of a luxury house in the monthly index compiled by the real estate broker Knight Frank LLC, which measures seven of London's most expensive districts, is now about 5-million pounds ($10.2-million). A typical house has appreciated by at least 100,000 pounds each month since September.

And even if you get the house, what about some art to go with it? Then get ready to write some big checks. At a recent London auction, an Auguste Rodin sculpture went for seven times the top estimate, while a painting by Eric Bulatov fetched six times its appraised value.

Or how about a wine cellar? Again, it will cost more than it used to. According to the Liv-ex.com index, the benchmark for the price of fine wine, prices are soaring: The index surged 9.2 percent in April alone, and 57 percent in 12 months.

So what's going on? The answer is that there is an awful lot of money out there. The rich aren't just getting richer. They are also growing in numbers.

That much is clear from the Cap Gemini report. The number of U.S.-dollar millionaires rose 8.3 percent in the past year, and now totals 9.5-million people worldwide.

There are two problems the super-wealthy have to face.

First, new money likes to emulate old money, so the things the rich want to buy have been around for a long time. They aren't making any more stucco-fronted houses in Belgravia, and Monet has long since hung up his paintbrush.

Next is what economists call "positional goods." The super-rich want things that prove to the rest of the world just how wealthy they are. Inevitably, they end up bidding against all the other newly rich people for a relatively small number of items.

For both reasons, demand will outstrip supply - and you don't need to be much of an economist to know that prices will continue to rise.

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