NEW YORK // Bill Gates has regained the top spot in Forbes magazine's 2009 Billionaires List, even though his fortune dipped by US$18 billion (Dh66.11bn) last year, as the global financial crisis wiped out $2 trillion in assets owned by the seriously wealthy. The Microsoft founder, now worth $40bn, has overtaken his close friend Warren Buffett, according to Forbes, after slipping to third place in 2008, when his personal fortune was $58bn. Mr Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, fell to second place with $37bn, down from $62bn. Behind him in third was Carlos Slim, the Mexican telecommunications tycoon who recently bought a substantial stake in The New York Times, with a bank balance of $35bn, down from $60bn. The top three lost a total of $68bn in the year to Feb 13, when Forbes took a snapshot of wealth around the world to compile its annual list of billionaires. "Billionaires don't have to worry about their next meal, but if their wealth is declining and you're not creating numerous new billionaires, it means the rest of the world is not doing very well," said Steve Forbes, the chief executive of Forbes magazine. "The typical billionaire is down at least one third on their net worth." The billionaires' total wealth fell from $4.4 trillion to $2.4 trillion, while the number of billionaires was down to 793 from 1,125. "It's the first time since 2003 that we have lost billionaires, but we've never before lost anywhere near this number," said Luisa Kroll, a senior editor at Forbes. "It's really hard to find something to cheer about unless you get some perverse pleasure in realising that some of the most successful... people in the world ... can't figure out this global economic turmoil better than the rest of us." New York City replaced Moscow as home to the most billionaires, with 55. Russia, which saw the number of super-rich soar in recent years, was badly hit, down to 32 billionaires from 87. Other developing countries that saw fast growth in previous years also suffered, including Turkey - where the number of billionaires fell to 13 from 35 due to the collapse in the value of the lira currency - and India. Anil Ambani, the biggest gainer on last year's Forbes list, was the biggest loser this time. The Indian businessman saw $32bn wiped out in the past 12 months. Ranked sixth last year, he fell to 34th, with an estimated wealth of $10.1bn. "India took a huge whack," Ms Kroll said, noting that last year Indians held four of the top 10 spots, but this year hold only two. The only person in the top 20 who did not lose money was the New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, whose net worth was revised up to $16bn from $11.5bn because of a revaluation of his media company, Bloomberg, according to Forbes. Mr Bloomberg is now the richest man in New York, jumping from 65 in the world to 17. Matthew Miller, a senior editor at Forbes, said that in the current climate those who lost only 20 per cent of their wealth were doing relatively well. Mr Miller singled out the Walton family, who founded the discount retailer Wal-Mart. "They lost $5bn each, but Wal-Mart stock hasn't completely fallen off the cliff like everything else," he said. Another discount retailing tycoon riding out the storm was the Japanese businessman Tadashi Yanai, whose company Fast Retailing, known for its Uniqlo stores, helped push him from 296th last year to 76th and raised his net wealth to $6bn from $3.6bn. Others who managed to increase their wealth were the investors George Soros and Ronald Perelman, as well as the short-seller John Paulson, who has profited from the fall in financial stocks, and the entertainer Oprah Winfrey, who jumped to 234 from 462. Among those conspicuous by their absence was the Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, one of last year's stars when he became the youngest self-made billionaire to make the Forbes list. Also dropping out were big name casualties of the financial crisis on Wall Street, the former American International Group chief executive, Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, and the former Citigroup chief executive, Sanford Weill. Sir Allen Stanford, the Texan billionaire accused of an $8bn fraud by US regulators, was also booted off the list. But crime allegations did not disqualify one notable new entry to the list, the Mexican drug lord Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, who is among the world's most wanted men and now worth $1bn. "He is not available for interviews," Ms Kroll said. "But his financial situation is doing quite well." * with Reuters
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