The richest people in the world have gotten poorer, just like the rest of us. This year the world's billionaires have an average net worth of $3 billion, down 23% in 12 months. The world now has 793 billionaires, down from 1,125 a year ago.
After slipping in recent years, the U.S. is regaining its dominance as a repository of wealth. Americans account for 44% of the money and 45% of the list's slots, up seven and three percentage points from last year, respectively. Bill Gates lost $18 billion but regained his title as the world's richest man. Warren Buffett, last year's No. 1, saw his fortune decline $25 billion as shares of Berkshire Hathaway fell nearly 50% in 12 months. Mexican telecom titan Carlos Slim Helú maintains his spot in the top three but lost $25 billion.
The top three billionaires
William Gates III
Net Worth: $40.0 bil
Fortune: self made
Software visionary regains title as the world's richest man despite losing $18 billion in the past 12 months. Stepped down from day-to-day duties at Microsoft last summer to devote his talents and riches to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Organization's assets were $30 billion in January; annual letter lauds endowment manager Michael Larson for limiting last year's losses to 20%. Gates decided to increase donations in 2009 to $3.8 billion, up 15% from 2008. Dedicated to fighting hunger in developing countries, improving education in America's high schools and developing vaccines against malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS. Appointed Microsoft Office veteran Jeffrey Raikes chief exec of Gates Foundation in September. Gates remains Microsoft chairman. Sells shares each quarter, redeploys proceeds via investment vehicle Cascade; more than half of fortune invested outside Microsoft. Stock down 45% in past 12 months. "Creative capitalist" wants companies to match profitmaking with doing good.
Net Worth: $37.0 bil
Fortune: self made
Last year America's most beloved investor was the world's richest man. This year he has to settle for second place after losing $25 billion in 12 months. Shares of Berkshire Hathaway down 45% since last March. Injected billions of dollars into Goldman Sachs, GE in exchange for preferred stock last fall; propped up insurance firm Swiss Re in February with $2.6 billion infusion. Admits he made some "dumb" investment mistakes in 2008. Upbeat about America's future: "Our economic system has worked extraordinarily well over time. It has unleashed human potential as no other system has, and it will continue to do so." Scoffs at Wall Street's over-reliance on "history-based" models: "If merely looking up past financial data would tell you what the future holds, the Forbes 400 would consist of librarians." Son of Nebraska politician delivered newspapers as a boy. Filed first tax return at age 13, claiming $35 deduction for bicycle. Studied under value investing guru Benjamin Graham at Columbia. Took over textile firm Berkshire Hathaway 1965. Today holding company invested in insurance (Geico, General Re), jewelry (Borsheim's), utilities (MidAmerican Energy), food (Dairy Queen, See's Candies). Also has noncontrolling stakes in Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, Wells Fargo.
Carlos Slim Helu & family
Net Worth: $35.0 bil
Fortune: self made
Economic downturn and plunging peso shaved $25 billion from the fortune of Latin America's richest man. Global recession testing his ability to live up to the principles he sets for his employees: "Maintain austerity in times of fat cows." Son of a Lebanese immigrant bought fixed line operator Telefonos de Mexico (Telmex) in 1990; now controls 90% of Mexico's telephone landlines. Would be a billionaire based on his dividends alone. Biggest holding: $16 billion stake in America Movil, Latin America's largest mobile phone company with 173 million customers. America Movil and Telmex reportedly planning to jointly invest $4 billion to bolster telecom infrastructure in Latin America. Buying up cheap media, energy and retail assets. Last year took stakes in New York Times Co., former billionaire Anthony O'Reilly's Independent News & Media and Bronco Drilling; also increased position in Saks. Baseball statistics aficionado, art collector.
Tags: Billionaires, Lebanese, Lebanon