By Kerry A. Dolan and Luisa Kroll for FORBES –
Despite plunging oil prices and a weakened euro, the ranks of the world’s wealthiest defied global economic turmoil and expanded yet again. For our 29th annual guide to the globe’s richest, we found a record 1,826 billionaires with an aggregate net worth of $7.05 trillion, up from $6.4 trillion a year ago. The total includes 290 newcomers, 71 of whom hail from China. Youth are on the rise: A record 46 among the ranks are under age 40. One earthward note: The average net worth of list members came in at $3.86 billion, down $60 million from 2014.
Bill Gates is once again the richest person on the planet, a title he’s held for 16 of the past 21 years. His fortune grew $3.2 billion since last year to $79.2 billion, despite a gift of $1.5 billion in Microsoft MSFT +0.64% shares to The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in November 2014. Carlos Slim Helu of Mexico comes in again at No. 2 while revered American investor Warren Buffett took back the No. 3 spot from Spain’s Amancio Ortega (now No. 4); not even the largest IPO in history was enough to beat the Oracle of Omaha this year. Buffett was the list’s biggest gainer, up $14.5 billion to $72.7 billion, thanks to Berkshire Hathaway’s rising share price. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg moves up 5 spots to number 16, his first time ranked among the world’s 20 richest. Ma and three other Chinese are among the the biggest gainers and appear among the 50 richest on the list.
Zuckerberg is also the leader in a youth revolution that has minted 46 billionaires under the age of 40. The youngest billionaire on the planet is Evan Spiegel, 24, co-founder of photo- messaging app Snapchat. California, driven by Silicon Valley tech companies, has spawned 23 new billionaires, including cofounders of car-hailing service Uber cofounders Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, and their first employee Ryan Graves. Elizabeth Holmes, who runs blood-testing firm Theranos, debuts on the global list as the youngest self-made woman at age 31. The state now has 131 individuals with 10-figure net worths, more than any other country besides China and the U.S.
The year’s biggest loser in dollar terms is Aliko Dangote of Nigeria, whose fortune dropped to $14.7 billion from $25 billion last year, propelled downward by a weaker Nigerian currency and shrinking demand for cement, his largest asset. He still retains the title of Africa’s richest man. The country that was lost the most ground by far was Russia, which now has 88 billionaires down from 111, less than not just the U.S. and China but now also Germany and India.
One hundred thirty-eight people from the 2014 list dropped out of the ranks altogether including fashion designer Michael Kors, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Zulily’s Mark Vadon and many Russians. Guatemala has a billionaire for the first time, and Iceland returns to the ranks after a five-year absence, the result of a comeback by Thor Bjorgolfsson, who’s now the only billionaire in Iceland’s history.
There’s no doubt that entrepreneurship is thriving globally. Fully 1,191 members of the list are self-made billionaires, while just 230 inherited their wealth. Another 405 inherited at least a portion but are still working to increase their fortunes.
Our estimates show a snapshot of wealth on Feb. 13, when we locked in stock prices and exchange rates from around the world. If a stock market wasn’t open on that day, we used the stock price from the previous trading day.
This is our 29th year publishing the Forbes Billionaires list. Though we’ve been at it a long time, it is never an easy task. Our reporters dig deep and travel far. To compile net worths, we value individuals’ assets–including stakes in public and private companies, real estate, yachts, art and cash–and take into account estimates of debt. We attempt to vet these numbers with all billionaires. Some cooperate; others don’t. We also consult an array of outside experts in various fields. The Forbes Billionaires ranks individuals rather than multi-generational families who share large fortunes. So Maja Oeri, who has a disclosed stake in pharmaceutical firm Roche, makes the list, but her eight relatives who, with a nonprofit foundation, share a multi-billion fortune do not. In some cases we list siblings together if the ownership breakdown among them isn’t clear, but here, too, they must be worth a minimum of $2 billion together to make the cut. We split up these fortunes when we get better information, as we did with the heirs of Colombia’s Julio Mario Santo Domingo this year. Children are listed with their parents when one person is the founder and in control. Those fortunes are identified as “& family.”
We do not include royal family members or dictators who derive their fortunes entirely as a result of their position of power, nor do we include royalty who, often with large families, control the riches in trust for their nation. Over the years Forbes has valued the fortunes of these wealthy despots, dictators and royals but we have listed them separately as they do not truly reflect individual, entrepreneurial wealth that could be passed down to a younger generation or truly given away.
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