Only 793 people make this year’s list of ‘The World’s Billionaires’, down from 1,125 last year. In fact, the economic collapse of the last year has been so disastrous for the fortunes of the world’s richest people that the combined net worth of this year’s group is a remarkable $2trn less than it was last year. Just 44 people on the list managed to grow their pile – New York mayor Michael Bloomberg was the only one in the top 20 to do so, and that’s only because of the financial news service that bears his name.
Generally speaking, it’s been a pretty rough year for the world’s ultra-rich. Microsoft’s Bill Gates is back on top of the tree with $40bn, but even he saw his fortune shrink by an eye-watering $18bn last year. Warren Buffett, meanwhile, fared even worse – the Sage of Omaha, who recently admitted to making some 'dumb investments' this year, slipped from first place to second after seeing his wealth shrink by $25bn to a mere $37bn. But the biggest loser of all was Anil Ambani of India’s Reliance Technologies: he managed to lose a whopping £32bn down the back of the credit crunch sofa.
This year’s list is also notable for its lack of Russians – their numbers are two-thirds down on last year, after a year in which their stock market has plummeted and their companies have torpedoed in value. Chelsea FC owner Roman Ambramovich has apparently lost about £10bn in the last 12 months (and he still hasn’t won the Champions’ League), but his losses pale in comparison to compatriot Oleg Deripaska: Russia’s former richest man has seen his net worth plummet from $28bn to a measly $3.5bn. That’s an 88% drop, which has got to sting a bit even if you’re an oligarch.
And in some respects, these were the lucky ones: 332 people fell of the list completely. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (though arguably it’s amazing he was ever on there in the first place), and former Citigroup CEO Sandy Weill were both among the high-profile dropouts relegated to the pitiful millionaire ranks this year. Doesn’t your heart just bleed for them?
However, there were some clear winners this year. In addition to Bloomberg’s success, budget retailers have also been filling their boots: Aldi boss Karl Albrecht moved up to sixth on the list, while Uniqlo founder Tadashi Yanai was one of the few new entrants – he’s now valued at $6bn. And, erm, suspected drug lords: Joaquin Guzman, Mexico’s most wanted man and the alleged head of its top drug cartel, joins the list for the first time after seeing his wealth hit ten figures. That’s one business that’s clearly recession-proof.
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