Friday, March 24

Billionaires worth US$3.7 trillion surge as Gates wins 2013


The richest people on the planet got even richer in 2013, adding US$524 billion to their collective net worth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world’s 300 wealthiest individuals.

The aggregate net worth of the world’s top billionaires stood at US$3.7 trillion at the market close on December 31, according to the ranking.

The biggest gains came in the technology industry, which soared 28 per cent during the year. Of the 300 people who appeared on the final ranking of 2013, only 70 registered a net loss for the 12-month period.

“The rich will keep getting richer in 2014,” John Catsimatidis, the billionaire founder of real estate and energy conglomerate Red Apple Group Inc, said in a telephone interview from his New York office. “Interest rates will remain low, equity markets will keep rising, and the economy will grow at less than two per cent.”

Gates, chairman and founder of Microsoft Corp

Bill Gates, the founder and chairman of Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft Corp, was the year’s biggest gainer.

The 58-year-old tycoon’s fortune increased by US$15.8 billion to US$78.5 billion, according to the index, as shares of Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker, rose 40 per cent.

Gates recaptured the title of world’s richest person on May 16 from Mexican investor Carlos Slim. Gates’s fortune has also benefited from a rally in stock holdings that include the Canadian National Railway Co and sanitising-products maker Ecolab Inc, which rose 34 and 45 per cent, respectively.

Four Seasons

Most of Gates’ assets are held in Cascade Investment LLC, an entity through which he owns stakes in about three dozen publicly traded companies and several closely held businesses, including Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and Corbis Corp, a photo-archive company.

Less than a quarter of Gates’s fortune is held in Microsoft. He’s donated US$28 billion to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

John Pinette, a spokesman for Gates, declined to comment.

Global stocks soared in 2013 for the best annual gain since 2009, with the MSCI World Index advancing 24 per cent during the year to close at 1,661.07 on December 31.

The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index rose 30 per cent to close at 1,848.36, its best yearly gain since 1997. The Stoxx Europe 600 gained 17 per cent to close at 328.26.

Companies in the S&P 500 are worth US$3.7 trillion more today than they were 12 months ago following a year when Federal Reserve chairman Ben S Bernanke signaled the curtailment of economic stimulus.

The bull market, born at the depths of the credit crisis, enters its sixth year fueled by near-zero interest rates and conviction among investors that it’s finally safe to own equities again.

Adelson, Slim

Adelson, chairman and chief executive officer of Las Vegas Sands Corp

Sheldon Adelson, founder of Las Vegas Sands Corp, the world’s largest casino company, was the second-biggest gainer in 2013, adding US$14.4 billion to his net worth as the company’s shares rose 71 per cent.

Macau’s gross gaming revenue is expected to grow 17 per cent to US$44.5 billion in 2013 from a record US$38 billion in 2012, according to Deutsche Bank AG analyst Karen Tang in Hong Kong.

Las Vegas Sands had revenue of US$13.2 billion in the 12 months ending September 30. More than 58 per cent of its sales come from Macau.

Slim lost US$1.4 billion during 2013. His America Movil SAB, the largest mobile-phone operator in the Americas, dropped 12 per cent in the first three months of the year after Mexico’s Congress passed a bill to quash the billionaire’s market dominance.

The company finished the year up two per cent after a planned expansion into Europe was reined in, reassuring investors who were leery about the billions of dollars in investment the strategy would require.

Batista Falls

Batista, chief executive officer of EBX Group Co Ltd

The 73-year-old Mexican is S$51 billion ahead of Jorge Paulo Lemann, Latin America’s second-richest person and Brazil’s wealthiest. Lemann’s 3G Capital completed its US$29 billion acquisition of Pittsburgh-based HJ Heinz Co in June, a transaction done with Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. With his two partners, the Brazilian billionaire, a former professional tennis player, manages three iconic American brands: Burger King, Budweiser beer and Heinz ketchup.

Latin America’s third-wealthiest person is Colombian Luis Carlos Sarmiento, who controls more than a quarter of the country’s financial industry through four publicly traded banks that form Bogota-based Grupo Aval.

His net worth fell 7.4 per cent to US$16.7 billion, according to the Bloomberg ranking.

Nobody lost more of their fortune than Eike Batista, whose net worth declined more than US$12 billion during the year. OGX Petroleo & Gas Participacoes SA, the oil company that transformed him into Brazil’s richest man, filed for bankruptcy protection in October.

Batista was the world’s eighth-richest person in March 2012, and now has a negative net worth, according to the Bloomberg ranking.

Hidden billionaires

“His loss of credibility is explained by not delivering on the results promised when he listed his companies,” Elad Revi, an investment analyst at Spinelli SA, said by telephone in a July 26 interview from Sao Paulo.

“There was a chain reaction: he lost credibility in one, then he lost it in all of them.”

Bloomberg News uncovered 109 billionaires in 2013 who have never appeared on an international wealth ranking, including Lynsi Torres, the youngest female billionaire in the US. The 31-year-old heiress to In-N-Out Burger has watched her family expand the chain from a single drive-through hamburger stand founded in 1948 in Baldwin Park, California, into a fast-food empire valued at more than US$1 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Asian wealth

Li Ka-Shing

Li Ka-Shing remains Asia’s richest man with a fortune of US$30.2 billion. The 85-year-old controls the Cheung Kong Holdings Ltd property investment company and conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa Ltd.

The billionaire indicated in October he might sell stakes in Hutchison’s retail unit and Power Assets Holdings Ltd, Hong Kong’s second-largest power supplier, to free up capital to acquire more assets in Europe, where his companies have spent US$14.5 billion on acquisitions the past three years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The biggest gainer in Asia was Macau casino mogul Lui Che Woo, who added US$14.2 billion to his net worth. Lui’s Hong Kong-listed Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd has one of six gambling licenses in the Chinese enclave. The company is the second-largest by revenue and controls almost 20 percent of the city’s casino market. — Bloomberg