It has been a busy year for Forbes' team of fortune hunters. Strong equity markets combined with rising real estate values and commodity prices pushed up fortunes from Mumbai to Madrid. Forbes pinned down a record 946 billionaires. There were 178 newcomers, including 19 Russians, 14 Indians, 13 Chinese and 10 Spaniards, as well as the first billionaires from Cyprus, Oman, Romania and Serbia.
Ingenuity, not industry, is the common characteristic; these folks made money in everything from media and real estate to coffee, dumplings and ethanol. Two-thirds of last year's billionaires are richer. Only 17 percent are poorer, including 32 who fell below the billion-dollar mark. The billionaires' combined net worth climbed by $900 billion to $3.5 trillion. That equates to $3.6 billion apiece.
The average billionaire is 62 years old, two years younger than in 2005. This year's new billionaires are seven years younger than that. Of list members' fortunes, 60 percent made theirs from scratch.
Within the ranks are simmering rivalries. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the world's richest man for 13 years, and his pal Warren Buffett, who holds the No. 2 spot despite enormous charitable donations, are quickly losing ground to Mexico's most-monied man, Carlos Slim Helú. Helú's net worth is up an astonishing $19 billion this year — the single biggest one-year gain in a decade — and is now just $7 billion shy of Gates and $3 billion less than Buffett. In Europe, Russia's mostly young, self-made tycoons are catching up to Germany's often-aging heirs and heiresses. Russia now has 53 billionaires (2 shy of Germany's total), but they are worth $282 billion ($37 billion more than Germany's richest). After a 20-year reign, Japan is no longer Asia's top spot for billionaires: India has 36, worth a total of $191 billion, followed by Japan with 24, worth a combined $64 billion.
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India's rich are also marching toward the top of our rankings. Brothers Mukesh and Anil Ambani, who split up their family’s conglomerate in 2005, join Lakshmi Mittal, who heads the world's biggest steel company, Arcelor Mittal, among the world’s 20 wealthiest. India now has three in the upper echelons, second only to the U.S.
But even in such a prosperous year, 44 people dropped off the list for various reasons.
All our numbers are based on a snapshot of balance sheets taken on Feb. 9, the day we locked in stock prices and exchange rates. So the five executives who took their Fortress Investment Group public at 9:30 a.m. on that morning made the cut. Also on the list is Ernest Gallo, founder of E.&J. Gallo Winery, who died on March 6. But our numbers don't reflect the volatility that shook the markets three weeks later. Between Feb. 9 and March 2 the world's stock markets, as measured by the Morgan Stanley All Country World Local Index, fell by 3.7 percent. Some fortunes (those based on private accumulations of real estate, for example) didn’t feel a blip. But some suffered severe damage. One big loser was a Spaniard, Enrique Banuelos, whose fortune fell 30 percent in four days.
Are there billionaires we don’t know about? Surely, yes. For instance, we didn't uncover Ireland's Denis O'Brien, who pocketed $800 million in a junk bond offering, until 13 days after we'd locked in fortunes, so he is not reflected in the rankings.