The richest people on the planet got even richer last year, adding $241 billion (R2 trillion) to their collective net worth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires index, a daily ranking of the world’s 100 wealthiest individuals.
The aggregate net worth of the world’s top moguls stood at $1.9 trillion at the market close on December 31, according to the index. Retail and telecommunications fortunes surged about 20 percent on average during the year. Of the 100 people who appeared on the final ranking of 2012, only 16 registered a net loss for the 12-month period.
“Last year was a great one for the world’s billionaires,” said John Catsimatidis, the billionaire owner of Red Apple Group, in an e-mail written poolside on his BlackBerry in the Bahamas. “In 2013, they will continue looking for investments around the world – not necessarily in the US – that will give them an advantage.”
Amancio Ortega, 76, the Spaniard who founded retailer Inditex, was the year’s biggest gainer. The tycoon’s fortune increased $22.2bn to $57.5bn, as shares of Inditex, the operator of the Zara clothing chain, rose 66.7 percent.
“It’s an amazing company and the gains are quite justified given its performance,” said Christodoulos Chaviaras, an analyst at Barclays. “Can they repeat that? It will be harder. A lot of the positive news is already reflected in the share price.”
Global stocks soared in 2012. The MSCI World index gained 13.2 percent during the year to close at 1 338.50 points on December 31. In New York, the Standard and Poor’s (S&P) 500 index rose 13.4 percent to close at 1 426.19 points.
European stocks surged in the second half of the year.
The Stoxx Europe 600 gained 19.6 percent after June 4, advancing as the European Central Bank introduced bond-buying programmes, S&P upgraded Greece’s debt and German business confidence rose more than forecast.
The benchmark gauge’s 14.4 percent advance for the year was the best annual return since 2009.
Carlos Slim, 72, the telecommunications magnate who controls Mexico’s America Movil, maintained his title as the richest person on Earth for the entire year.
His net worth rose $13.4bn, making him the second-biggest gainer by dollars.
Gains by Slim’s industrial conglomerate, Grupo Carso, and Grupo Financiero Inbursa, his banking and insurance operation, more than offset the decline posted by America Movil, his biggest holding.
The largest cellular network operator in the Americas by subscribers fell 5.8 percent to close at 14.90 pesos (R9.76) at the end of the year.
“America Movil is no longer the growth story that it has been, given the increase in Latin American wireless penetration over the last five years,” said Chris King, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus.
“It continues to generate a very high amount of cash flow and has the best set of telecom assets across Latin America.”
According to King, one of Slim’s biggest challenges will be dealing with regulation in Mexico and Colombia designed to punish or even out the market share between America Movil and its competitors.
Of the 14 analysts who cover the stock, 71 percent have a buy rating on the company.
US software mogul Bill Gates, 57, ranked second, trailing Slim by $12.5bn.
The Microsoft co-founder added $7bn to his net worth as the company’s shares rose 2.9 percent.
Microsoft stock accounts for less than 20 percent of Gates’s fortune.
Warren Buffett, 82, lost his place as the third-richest man to Ortega in August.
The Berkshire Hathaway chairman gained $5.1bn during the year, even after donating 22.3 million Berkshire Class B shares to charity.
The billionaire, who has pledged to give away most of his fortune, spent much of the year pressing for higher taxes on the wealthy.
“On incomes of over $1 million, the excess over $1m should have a minimum tax of 30 percent. And then over $10m, 35 percent,” Buffett said in November.
Tax law should be progressive. And I think that when people make $15m or $20m or $200m and pay a 10 percent rate, something should be done about it.”
Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad, 86, was the fifth-richest person with a $42.9bn fortune.
The complex structure behind the largest furniture retailer became more transparent in August after Ikea’s franchisor published its financial performance publicly for the first time.
His net worth rose 16.6 percent last year.
Brazil’s Eike Batista, 56, was the biggest loser, falling $10.1bn.
The commodities maven, who vowed he’d become the world’s wealthiest man by 2015, sold a 5.63 percent stake in his EBX Group in March to Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Development.
At year end Batista ranked 75th in the world with a $12.4bn net worth
On March 27, he was worth $34.5bn and ranked eighth.
“In 2012, high net worth people focused on the things they could control: lifestyle and concierge services, managing their art collections and family security,” said Armand Del Medico, a wealth adviser for UBS Financial Services.
“Looking forward, there is more of an appetite to look at opportunities outside of traditional investments and increased global exposure.” - Bloomberg