Several Asian countries saw the fastest growth in the number of millionaires worldwide last year. And in China, the government plans to raise the minimum wage. Claudia Blume at VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong has more on these and other business stories from the region.

The number of Asians with assets of more than $1 million increased 8.6 percent in 2006, compared with a year earlier. Investment bank Merrill Lynch's annual wealth report, released jointly with financial services provider Capgemini, says their combined wealth increased 10.5 percent to more than $8 trillion.

Five of the 10 countries worldwide where the number of millionaires is growing fastest are in Asia - led by Singapore with a 21 percent increase and India, where the growth rate was more than 20 percent last year. Indonesia, South Korea and Hong Kong are also among the top 10.

Victor Tan, Merrill Lynch's chief equity strategist for the Asia-Pacific region, says the increase in millionaires was driven by the region's strong economic performance last year.

"As we have seen, both real GDP [gross domestic product] growth and growth in market capitalization worked together in 2006 to fuel the strong increase in the high net worth individual population and the combined wealth," he said.

While the number of millionaires is rising in some areas, there are concerns in China that inflation is eroding incomes for millions of poor families. The government has ordered local authorities in areas that have economically lagged behind other parts of the country to raise the minimum wage by the end of this year. Prices for key foods in China, such as pork and poultry have risen more than 25 percent so far this year.

The minimum wage in China varies by location. The southern city of Shenzhen has the highest - 106 dollars a month, while Jiangxi province has the lowest, at $35.

In the aviation industry, Australia's flag carrier Qantas will open a regional pilot training center. The academy, which will operate independently of the airline, will train about 3,000 new pilots in the next 10 years, both for Qantas and other airlines. The center will initially be run from Qantas' existing facilities in Sydney and Melbourne.

Also in Australia, the federal court cleared the U.S. bank Citigroup of insider trading charges. The Australian Securities and Investment Commission alleged that the bank used inside information to trade shares in the transport company Patrick in 2005, while Citigroup was helping organize a takeover of the company at the same time.

The court ruled, however, that Citigroup had adequate safeguards in place to ensure that the trader who bought the Patrick shares knew nothing about the takeover deal.

And finally, Playboy - the U.S. adult entertainment company - will open an entertainment center in Macau. The Playboy Mansion will be part of the Macau Studio City, an integrated resort combining film studios, gambling facilities and hotels. The complex is scheduled to open in 2009.