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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

World's wealthiest gain $1 trillion in 2017 on market exuberance

The rise is more than four times 2016's gain, as stock markets reach record highs

The richest people on earth became US$1 trillion richer in 2017. Mandel Ngan / AFP
The richest people on earth became US$1 trillion richer in 2017. Mandel Ngan / AFP

The richest people on earth became US$1 trillion richer in 2017, more than four times last year’s gain, as stock markets shrugged off economic, social and political divisions to reach record highs.

The 23 per cent increase on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world’s 500 richest people, compares with an almost 20 per cent increase for both the MSCI World Index and Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos added the most in 2017, a $34.2 billion gain that knocked Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates out of his spot as the world’s richest person in October. Gates, 62, had held the spot since May 2013, and has been donating much of his fortune to charity, including a $4.6bn pledge he made to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in August. Bezos, whose net worth topped $100bn at the end of November, currently has a net worth of $99.6bn compared with $91.3bn billion for Gates.

George Soros also gave away a substantial part of his fortune, revealing in October that his family office had given $18bn to his Open Society Foundations over the past several years, dropping the billionaire investor to No. 195 on the Bloomberg ranking, with a net worth of $8bn.

By the end of trading December 26, the 500 billionaires controlled $5.3 trillion, up from $4.4 trillion on December 27, 2016.

“It’s part of the second-most robust and second-longest bull market in history,” said Mike Ryan, chief investment officer for the Americas at UBS Wealth Management, on December 18. “Of all the guidance we gave people over the course of this year, the most important advice was staying invested.”

Among the winners are the 38 Chinese billionaires on the Bloomberg index who added $177bn in 2017, a 65 per cent increase that was the biggest of the 49 countries represented.

Hui Ka Yan, founder of developer China Evergrande Group, added $25.9bn, a 350 per cent jump from last year, and the second-biggest US dollar gain on the index, after Bezos. Technology billionaire Ma Huateng, co-founder of messaging service Tencent Holdings, became Asia’s second-richest person when his fortune nearly doubled to $41bn.

The number of Asian billionaires surpassed the US for the first time, according to a UBS Group AG and PricewaterhouseCoopers report.

The US still has the largest presence on the index, with 159 billionaires who added a combined $315bn, an 18 per cent gain that gives them a collective net worth of $2 trillion.

Russia’s 27 richest people put behind them the economic pain that followed President Vladimir Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, adding $29bn to $275bn, surpassing the collective net worth they had before western economic sanctions began.

It was also a banner year for tech moguls, with the 57 technology billionaires on the index adding $262bn , a 35 per cent increase that was the most of any sector on the ranking.

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg had the fourth-largest US dollar increase on the index, adding $22.6bn, or 45 per cent, and filed plans to sell 18 per cent of his stake in the social media giant as part of his plan to give away the majority of his $72.6bn fortune.

In all, the 440 billionaires on the index who added to their fortunes in 2017, gained a combined $1.05 trillion.

Not all were winners this year: the fortune of French telecommunications billionaire Patrick Drahi fell $4.1bn to $6.3bn, a 39 per cent drop. Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, the richest person in Saudi Arabia, dropped $1.9bn to $17.8bn after he was detained in a crackdown against corruption led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that targeted royals, government officials and business leaders.

Jeff Bezos' fortune has now topped $100bn. Brent Lewis/Getty

Jeff Bezos is the world’s newest US$100 billion mogul.

The Amazon.com founder’s fortune is up $2.4bn to $100.3bn, as the online retailer’s shares jumped more than 2 per cent on optimism for Black Friday sales. Online purchases for the day are up 18.4 per cent over last year, according to data from Adobe Analytics, and investors are betting the company will take an outsized share of online spending over the gifting season.

The $100 billion milestone makes Mr Bezos, 53, the first billionaire to build a 12-figure net worth since 1999, when Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates hit the mark.

Mr Bezos’ fortune rose $32.6bn this year through Thursday, the largest increase of anyone on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world’s 500 richest people. Amazon have climbed 5 per cent last week alone.

As Mr Bezos’ wealth flirts with new heights, there’s likely to be more questions about what he intends to do with it. Unlike Mr Gates, who was the world’s richest person until Mr Bezos passed him in October, or the US investor Warren Buffett, the world’s third-richest person with $78.9bn, Mr Bezos has given relatively little of his fortune to charity.

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There were 60 billionaires who fell from the ranking, including South African retailer Christo Wiese, whose fortune dropped to $1.8bn from a peak of $7.7bn, in August 2016, after news of an accounting scandal at his Steinhoff International Holdings broke on December 5.

Sumner Redstone, 94, also fell off the list as CBS owner Viacom continued to grapple with a bitter battle for control between his daughter and other executives, while Rupert Murdoch, 86, sidestepped succession concerns with a December deal to sell much of 21st Century Fox's entertainment assets to Walt Disney Redstone shed $90 million. Murdoch added $2.7bn.

In all, the 58 of the 500 billionaires who saw their fortunes shrink in 2017, lost a combined $46bn .

There were 67 hidden billionaires in 2017, according to Bloomberg Index.

Renaissance Technologies’s Henry Laufer was identified with a net worth of $4 billion in April. Robert Mercer, 71, who plans to step down as co-CEO of the world’s most profitable trading fund on January 1, couldn’t be confirmed as a billionaire.

Two fish billionaires, Russia’s Vitaly Orlov and Chuck Bundrant of Trident Seafood were also identified this year. A Brazilian tycoon who built a $1.3 billion fortune with Latin America’s biggest wind developer was interviewed in April.

Two New York real estate moguls were identified: Ben Ashkenazy and Joel Wiener. The index also identified several technology startup billionaires, including the chief executive officer of Roku and the two co-founders of Wayfair.

Investor euphoria created a number of bitcoin billionaires, including Tyler and Cameron Winkelvoss, with the value of the cryptocurrency soaring to more than $16,000 Tuesday, up from $1,140 on January 4. The leap came with a chorus of warnings, including from Janet Yellen, who called the emerging tender a “highly speculative asset” at her last news conference as chair of the Federal Reserve, on December 13.

With wealth surging to new highs, billionaires may quickly learn that a billion dollars doesn’t buy what it used to. The price of housing has topped $300m, the cost of divorce has hit $1 billion and a rediscovered painting by Leonardo da Vinci sold for $450.3m at a Christie’s auction in November, the most expensive work ever sold.

“Would you believe it?” Eli Broad, who has a $7.4 billion fortune and his own museum in Los Angeles, said after the sale. “It’s wild.”

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