By Correspondent
CNBC
updated 5/16/2006 7:02:31 PM ET 2006-05-16T23:02:31

Rolling Stones Inc. is a unique phenomenon. A billion-dollar industry where the only material assets are the CEO and Managing Director. Along, of course with intellectual property that its fans regard as priceless.

When Lead guitarist Keith Richards fell from the now-infamous coconut tree in Fiji last month the most common hospital reaction was amusement at another rock star jape. But when the stones 'Bigger Bang' world tour was affected the accident was no longer a joke.

Richards was discharged from a hospital in New Zealand on Thursday following surgery to relieve pressure in his head following a fall, his publicist told the Associated Press. The Stones' "A Bigger Bang European" tour, which was scheduled to start in Barcelona, Spain, later this month, will be postponed until June.

Each concert grosses between $2 million and $3 million, after tickets and merchandising. And with tickets for this tour reaching $4,000 a pair on eBay, it's easy to see how of the seven highest-grossing rock tours of all time, four are by the Stones.

“The Rolling Stones are far and away always number one. They are just very good at making top dollar from their tour, they've always been a great band but now they’re a great band that have a hell of a lot of money”, said rock biographer Rick Sky.

What makes a bunch of Brits in their sixties the biggest cash generators in the U.S. for 2005, pulling in $168 million in that country alone, is the astute financial sense of the bands two leaders, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

“They're a fantastic financial institution because they call the shots,” says Sky. “Those two call all the shots.”

That includes pioneering tour sponsorship, basing themselves in different countries to avoid punitive taxes, and forging Microsoft commercials. Microsoft paid $4 million dollars to use their song 'Start Me Up' in ads. (MSNBC.COM is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC.)

Because they play their cards so close to their chests, no one knows exactly what the personal wealth of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards is. Conservative estimates put it at well over $600 million.  And if they never lifted a microphone or guitar again, they would earn millions more annually from royalties. Which begs the question; why, in their sixties, do they want to keep touring?

Richards calls it an addiction, but Fortune Magazine described it another way – “For the Stones it's a game and money is the scorecard.”

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