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Published: Thursday, 3/11/2010

Deal-savvy Mexican rises to be world's richest man


NEW YORK - Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim is the world's richest person, knocking Microsoft founder Bill Gates into second spot, as the wealth of the world's billionaires grew by 50 percent over the last year, Forbes magazine said today.

The magazine estimated Mr. Slim's net worth at $53.5 billion, compared to Mr. Gates's $53 billion fortune, while investor Warren Buffett came in at No. 3 with $47 billion.

The trio regained $41.5 billion of the $68 billion they had lost the previous year, Forbes said.

Two Indians round out the top five richest people in the world - Mukesh Ambani, with a petrochemicals, oil, and gas fortune of $29 billion, and steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, who is valued at $28.7 billion.

The number of billionaires around the world has nearly recovered in 2010 after dropping by a third last year during the global financial crisis. There are now 1,011 billionaires, compared with 793 last year and 1,125 in 2008.

The net wealth of those billionaires grew to $3.6 trillion from $2.4 trillion last year, but is still down from 2008's $4.4 trillion, according to the 24th annual Forbes list, which took a snapshot of wealth on Feb. 12 to compile its ranking.

The number of women on the list rose to 89 from 72 last year.

"The global economy is recovering and it's reflected in what you see in the list this year," said Steve Forbes, chief executive of Forbes.

"Asia is leading the comeback," Mr. Forbes said.

The number of billionaires in the Asia-Pacific region grew by 80 percent to 234. Their net worth almost doubled to $729 billion.

Mr. Gates and Mr. Buffett fell to second and third on the list partially because of their generosity.

"They would be far richer today if it wasn't for their tremendous philanthropy," Forbes Senior Editor Matthew Miller said. "Buffett would be worth at least $55 billion … and Gates' net worth would exceed $80 billion had it not been for his philanthropy."

Mr. Slim, the son of an immigrant shopkeeper, saw his worth surge in the past year as his cell phone holdings rebounded in value.

Mr. Slim, 70, is known for wearing inexpensive suits and rarely using the computers his companies sell, preferring old-style paper notebooks. His indulgences are largely limited to cigars and diet soft drinks.

A civil engineer by training, he has bought up troubled or government-owned companies of all types, fixed them, and resold them for huge profits.

That kind of thrifty eye for undervalued businesses has served him well, especially after the market downturns in recent years.

Of the 97 billionaires making their debut on the Forbes list, 62 are from Asia, while for the first time China is now home to the most billionaires outside of the United States.

"The United States still dominates, but the United States is lagging," Mr. Forbes said. "It is not doing as well as the rest of the world in coming back."

The top homes to billionaires are New York with 60 and Moscow with 50, followed by London with 32.

The youngest self-made billionaire is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who is worth $4 billion at the age of 25.

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