Hard times cut billionaires club ranks
By Hope Yen
NEW YORK Even the world's richest people feel the sting of a depressed economy and shrinking stock portfolios.
The world's distinct club of billionaires dropped 83 members this year to 497 as recession and fallout from the terrorist attacks reduced their wealth. The group's combined worth fell to $1.54 trillion from $1.73 trillion last year, according to Forbes magazine's 16th annual ranking of billionaires released yesterday.
Among the missing: Honolulu-born Steve Case, chairman of AOL Time Warner, whose company stock has declined by about half since last year, and Gary Winnick, chairman of Global Crossing, which filed for bankruptcy protection in January.
They led a second year of decline in the number of billionaires since the tech downturn began pressuring the world economy in 2000. The largest drop of 91 came last year.
"Talk about churn, creation and destruction at work," said Louisa Kroll, who edited Forbes' March billionaires issue, which hits the newsstands today. "For two years in a row, it's been falling fortunes."
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates lost $6 billion last year, but that didn't stop him from being the richest man in the world for the 8th year in a row. With a net worth of $52.8 billion, Gates remained comfortably ahead of Warren Buffett, who held the No. 2 spot with $35 billion.
German retailers Theo and Karl Albrecht climbed two notches to No. 3, with a net value of $26.8 billion. They pushed Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, ranked third last year with a value of $30.4 billion, to No. 4 after he lost $5.2 billion, partly in the stock market bust.
Oracle Corp. founder Larry Ellison had the fifth spot, while five heirs of the Wal-Mart fortune created by founder Sam Walton rounded out the top 10.
Newspaper heiress Barbara Cox Anthony of Hawai'i was No. 21 this year, with $10.1 billion. Last year, she also ranked 21st, with $11.7 billion. She was 18th in 2000.
Only 25 on the list are under 40, led by 37-year-old computer founder Michael Dell at No. 18. The highest-ranking rich woman was No. 8, Alice Walton, with assets of $20.5 billion.
The list was set using stock prices and exchange rates as of Feb. 4.
Among the countries, the United States led the list with 243 billionaires, down from 272 last year, with a combined net worth of $111 billion. One of the bigger losers was CNN founder Ted Turner, now a vice chairman at AOL Time Warner, who lost 50 percent of his net worth to $3.8 billion. He dropped 62 places on the list to No. 97.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder of the financial information company Bloomberg, spent $70 million of his own money to win his first political campaign last fall. Still, he saw his ranking move up 10 places to No. 72, despite losing a total of $100 million to have assets of $4.4 billion.
Europe had 121 billionaires, headed by the Albrechts and Germany's Johanna Quandt and family, whose 46 percent ownership of automaker BMW helped put them at No. 12.
Asia, led by Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud at No. 11, notched 70 billionaires. A loser was Japan's Yasuo Takei and family, whose $3.1 billion in losses dropped him 14 places to No. 51 as the country battles deflation and a decade-long economic slowdown.
Japan accounted for five of Asia's 15 former billionaires who dropped from the list this year.
Of the 497 total billionaires from 43 countries, 260 inherited some or all of their wealth, and the rest made their money themselves. Twenty-seven are college dropouts.