Top 100 billionaires saw wealth rise

The richest people on the planet got even richer in 2012, adding US$241 billion ($289 billion) 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 100 moguls stood at US$1.9 trillion at the market close on December 31.

"Last year was a great one for the world's billionaires," said John Catsimatidis, the billionaire owner of Red Apple Group, in an email written poolside on his BlackBerry in the Bahamas. "In 2013, they will continue looking for investments around the world - and not necessarily in US - that will give them an advantage."

Amancio Ortega, the Spaniard who founded retailer Inditex, was the year's biggest gainer. The 76-year-old tycoon's fortune increased US$22.2b to US$57.5b as shares of Inditex, operator of the Zara clothing chain, rose 66.7 per cent.

Of the people who appeared on the final ranking of 2012, only 16 registered a net loss for the 12-month period.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg lost US$5.2b during the year after the company's shares fell 30 per cent following its May initial public offering. Investors sued Facebook, the operator of the world's largest social network, after its stock dropped in the wake of what was the largest technology IPO in history. The investors claim the company failed to disclose discussions it had with underwriters' analysts about advertising revenue.

In December, the 28-year-old donated almost US$500 million in Facebook stock to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The gift to the nonprofit group, which had US$2b in assets in 2011, is to "lay a foundation for new projects", Zuckerberg said in a statement posted on his Facebook page.

He and his wife, Priscilla, signed a pledge two years ago committing the majority of their wealth to charity. He is worth US$12.3b.


Carlos Slim, the telecommunications magnate who controls Mexico's America Movil, maintained his title as the richest person on Earth for the entire year. The 72-year-old's net worth rose US$13.4b - or 21.6 per cent - through December 31, 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 and the largest mobile phone operator in the Americas by subscribers.

US software mogul Bill Gates, 57, ranks second on the list, trailing Slim by US$12.5b. The Microsoft co-founder added US$7b to his net worth as shares of the Redmond, Washington-based company rose 2.9 per cent. Microsoft stock accounts for less than 20 per cent of the billionaire's fortune.

Warren Buffett, 82, lost his title as the world's third-richest man to Ortega on August 6. The Berkshire Hathaway chairman gained US$5.1b during the year, even after donating 22.3 million Berkshire Class B shares in July 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.

IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, 86, is the world's fifth-richest person with a US$42.9b fortune. The complex ownership structure behind IKEA, the world's 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 per cent in 2012.

Brazil's Eike Batista, 56, was the year's biggest loser by dollars, falling US$10.1b. The commodities maven, who vowed a year ago that he'd become the world's wealthiest man by 2015, sold a 5.63 per cent stake in his EBX Group in March to Abu Dhabi's Mubadala Development.

Batista now ranks 75th in the world with a US$12.4b net worth and his former title as the richest Brazilian is now held by 73-year-old banker Jorge Paulo Lemann, who ranks 37th on the index with an US$18.8b fortune.

The country's second- richest person is Dirce Camargo, the matriarch behind Camargo Correa, the Sao Paulo-based conglomerate that has interests in cement, electricity and Havaianas jandals. Her net worth is US$13.4b, according to the Bloomberg ranking.

Camargo, who doesn't appear on any other major international wealth ranking, is one of 54 billionaires the index uncovered during the year.

Among the others: Hamdi Ulukaya, the 40-year-old Turkish immigrant owner of Chobani, the best-selling yogurt brand in the US; South Africa's Nathan "Natie" Kirsh, 80, who amassed a US$5.4b fortune in retail and real estate; and Elaine Marshall, 70, whose 14.6 per cent ownership of closely held Koch Industries makes her the fourth-richest woman in America. She is worth US$14.1b.

Oracle founder Larry Ellison rose US$6.4b in 2012 as shares of the world's largest database company jumped 31.7 per cent. Ellison, 68, who has more than tripled the amount of Oracle stock he has pledged against lines of credit in the last year, agreed to buy 98 per cent of Hawaii's Lanai island.

The bulk of Ellison's fortune comes from his 23.5 per cent stake in Oracle. He also has interests in software makers NetSuite and LeapFrog Enterprises, as well as property holdings, including estates in California and Newport, Rhode Island.

Bernard Arnault, France's richest man, gained US$8.1b as shares of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton and its publicly traded holding company Christian Dior soared.

Arnault, who is applying for Belgian citizenship for "personal" reasons, owns 70.4 per cent of Christian Dior, according to French regulatory filings. His net worth is valued at US$28.8b. chief executive Jeff Bezos, 48, added US$6.9b to his net worth as shares of the world's largest online retailer rose 45 per cent. The four heirs to the Wal-Mart Stores fortune - Jim Walton, Christy Walton, Alice Walton and Rob Walton - gained a combined US$13.5b. 

Lui Che Woo, founder of Galaxy Entertainment Group, was the biggest winner on the index by percentage gain. His fortune more than doubled to US$11.9b. The company plans to invest as much as HK$50b to expand a Macau resort as the casino operator seeks to draw more Chinese tourists in the world's largest gambling hub.

Asia's richest man, Li Ka-Shing, rose US$6.4b. The 84- year-old chairman of Hong Kong property developer Cheung Kong Holdings ranks 11th on the list with a net worth of US$28.6b.

Zong Qinghou, head of China's third-largest beverage maker, became the country's richest man in September after disclosing his stake in closely held Hangzhou Wahaha Group was more than double previous estimates.

The 67-year-old soda and juice tycoon owns more than 80 per cent of Wahaha, and has a net worth of US$15.8b, according to the Bloomberg ranking. He is US$8.4b wealthier than Robin Li, founder of Baidu, China's biggest search engine operator.

- Washington Post/Bloomberg