Gates back on top of rich list

2009-03-12 11:04

New York - US tycoons are back on top with Microsoft founder Bill Gates again the world's richest man in a year when even billionaires felt the heat of the global recession, Forbes magazine said on Wednesday.

The wealthy few did not escape big shocks this year, with net worth on the list of 793 billionaires -- down from 1 125 billionaires in 2008 - plummeting to $2.4 trillion from $4.4 trillion, Forbes said.

"The biggest news today is that we are here and there still are billionaires," Forbes spokesperson Monie Begley joked at a press conference.

The much-watched annual rich list put Gates back on top with a net worth of $40bn, although he saw his bank balance lose $18bn over the last 12 months.

In second came investor Warren Buffett with $37bn, despite losing $25bn this year in the value of his Berkshire Hathaway shares.

Also losing $25bn, Mexican telecoms king Carlos Slim still managed to come in third with $35bn.

The US surge sent billionaires from India, Russia and Turkey into retreat.

US rich filled 10 of the 20 top spots and New York replaced Moscow as home to most billionaires, with 55 to 27. London comes in second with 28.

Facebook founder falls off

Russia, where wealth is closely tied to commodity prices, lost almost two thirds of its billionaires, down from 87 to 32.

Russian oligarchs have long been famous for flaunting their wealth, but this year, none of them make it into the elite top 20, compared to four in the 2008 list.

India lost more than half of its billionaires, with the total going from 53 to 24.

Two Indians appear in the top 20, notably steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal with just $19.3bn after losing $25.7bn over the last year.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at number 17, was notable as the only top 20 member to see a net gain.

That was not because of his salary, which is a symbolic one dollar a year, but thanks to re-evaluation of Bloomberg financial news agency after the mayor bought a 20% stake from Merrill Lynch last year for $4.5bn.

About 64% of the billionaires are self-made and their average age is 63.7, a slight rise resulting from the lower number of rich Russians and Chinese, whose average ages last year were 46 and 48.

By contrast with that aging trend, Gates is a relatively youthful 53.

The youngest billionaire prize this year goes to Albert von Thurn und Taxis of Germany, who is 25 and listed as having $2.1bn.

But one of the young success stories from last year - Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg - dropped off the list altogether.

The top concentrations of billionaires in the United States are in California, then New York and Texas.

One billionaire unlikely to welcome the attention though is Joaquin Guzman Loera, 54, whose $1bn is derived from cocaine trafficking.