Making a billion just isn’t what it used to be.
In our inaugural ranking of the world’s richest people 20 years ago we uncovered some 140 billionaires. This year the list is a record 793, up 102 from last year.
They’re worth a combined $2.6 trillion, up 18 percent since last March. Their average net worth: $3.3 billion. Strong stock markets around the world (the U.S. being the notable exception) contributed to this surge in wealth.
India, whose BSE Sensex market was up 54 percent in the past 12 months, is home to 10 new billionaires, more than any other country besides the U.S. Notable newcomers include Kushal Pal Singh, India’s biggest real estate developer; Tulsi Tanti, a former textile trader whose alternative energy company owns Asia’s largest wind farm and Vijay Mallya, the liquor tycoon behind Kingfisher beer.
China now has eight billionaires, four times as many as last year. Solar power mogul Zhengrong Shi joins the list at $2.2 billion.
Russia, whose RTS stock exchange was up 108 percent, benefited from strong gains in commodities prices. The surge swelled the fortunes of its 33 billionaires, including seven newcomers who join the list. Russians are worth $173 billion this year, $82 billion more than last year.
The world’s wealthiest also continue to find new ways to make money. Consider the appearance of online gambling tycoons. PartyGaming, the company that operates the popular PartyPoker site, went public in London last June, turning three of its founders into billionaires overnight. Among the three is American Ruth Parasol, the list’s only new self-made woman.
Canadian playboy Calvin Ayre went down to Costa Rica a decade ago and began taking bets over the Internet. Most of his revenue comes from the U.S., where online gaming is illegal. Now he too is a billionaire, and one, at least so far, beyond the extraterritorial reach of the U.S. law enforcement and tax authorities.
The U.S. is home to 44 new billionaires and commands nearly half of the fortunes on the roster. Bill Gates retains his title as the world’s richest person for the twelfth straight year, proving that while it’s getting easier to make a billion, the same can’t be said for making $50 billion.
In second place is his good friend and bridge partner Warren Buffett. The Sage of Omaha is worth $42 billion this year, $2 billion less than last.
Other notables in the Top 20 include number 7, Bernard Arnault, the pope of fashion who runs LVMH and oversees its high-end brands including Louis Vuittton and Dom Perignon; and Roman Abramovich, the 39-year-old Russian oil baron who liquidated his biggest asset last year for $13 billion.
Seventy-eight women make the list, 10 more than last year, though only six are self-made including the Queen of All Media, Oprah Winfrey, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and Ebay’s Meg Whitman.
Hind Hariri, daughter of slain Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, who is eight months younger than Germany’s Prince Albert von Thurn und Taxis, is, at 22, the list’s youngest member.
Twelve people return to the list including Hiroshi Mikitani, founder of Japanese Internet shopping mall Rakuten.
Thirty-nine people depart from it. Eleven of them died including John Walton, the son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton; he perished in a plane crash last June.
The other 28 fell off either because of stock drops, repercussions from dubious ethics or because we discovered they shared it with more family members (individually, they each had less than $1 billion).
High profile drop-offs include Martha Stewart, whose net worth has fallen to an estimated $500 million since she got out of jail, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, who was convicted of fraud and theft and is serving an 8-year-prison sentence in Eastern Siberia.