Hart beats the Aussies

22:41, Mar 14 2009
A WEALTH OF SMILES: Graeme Hart is now the richest person in Australasia, having left many Aussie tycoons in his wake.

New Zealand's richest man just became more wealthy than anybody in Australia as well.

In fact, according to the prestigious annual billionaires list compiled by Forbes magazine, only 109 people in the world now have more money than one-time tow truck driver Graeme Hart.

Forbes says that Hart, an astute buyer and seller of assets who currently runs a global packaging empire, is worth an estimated US$4.5 billion ($8.8 billion).

That is actually down, from US$5.1 billion a year ago. But because Hart has held on to his wealth, when so many have been losing it in the past year, he has jumped from 201 on the list to 110.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates has reclaimed his title as world's richest man, despite seeing his net worth fall to US$40 billion from US$58 billion a year ago.

The number of billionaires, Forbes says, has shrunk to 793 from 1125 as many of the world's wealthiest have been struck by the global credit crunch.

The average net worth on the billionaires list is US$3 billion, down 23 per cent from a year ago.

In claiming the title of richest person in Australasia, Hart has overtaken such tycoons as Rupert Murdoch, Frank Lowy of Westfield, and James Packer. Last year's wealthiest Australian Andrew Forrest has dropped well down the list after his metals company Fortescue was hit by the rapid slowdown in the mining and ore industry.