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Published: Thursday, 3/8/2012

Forbes lists record 1,226 billionaires in world


NEW YORK -- One made the list on the strength of girdle sales, another powered by electric sports cars. Still others lost billions or fell off the list altogether thanks to the weak global economy and the gyrations of financial markets.

Forbes magazine released its annual tally of billionaires on Wednesday, reporting that a record 1,226 people around the globe have a net worth in the ten digits. That's up 1 percent from last year's total.

But it wasn't an easy year for the super rich -- about 441 list members lost wealth during the year, nearly equal to the 461 who expanded their fortunes.

The group's total combined net worth is up 2 percent at $4.6 trillion. The average worth of a list member is $3.7 billion.

Familiar faces: The top of the list contains many of the same names from recent years.


Fortune magazine's top billionaires worldwide:

  • Carlos Slim: $69 billion, telecommunications
  • Bill Gates: $61 billion, Microsoft Corp.
  • Warren Buffett: $44 billion, Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
  • Bernard Arnault: $41 billion, LVMH Moet Hennessy
  • Armancio Ortega: $37.5 billion, Zara International
  • Larry Ellison: $36 billion, Oracle Corp.
  • Eike Batista: $30 billion, mining and oil
  • Stefan Persson: $26 billion, clothing chain H&M
  • Li Ka-shing: $25.5 billion, diversified industries
  • Karl Albrecht: $25.4 billion, discount grocery chain Aldi Group

Carlos Slim of Mexico remained the world's richest man for the third year in a row with a $69 billion fortune, down $5 billion from last year. Forbes attributed the drop in Mr. Slim's fortune to the decline in share prices for regional cell phone carrier America Movil, his largest holding.

Bill Gates of Microsoft Corp. came in second at $61 billion, up $5 billion as his company's shares hit a 10-year high. And Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway came in at third place with a $44 billion fortune, down $6 billion from the prior year.

Those three -- in the same order -- also topped the Bloomberg Billionaire Index released earlier this week.

New names: There were a number of interesting new faces on the list as well.

Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and founder of Tesla Motors, joined the list as the world's 634th richest person as the value of stock in his electric car company rose. The widow of Apple's Steve Jobs, Laurene Powell Jobs, took his spot on the list.

But one of the most interesting additions was Sara Blakely, the founder of women's slimming undergarments company Spanx Inc., who joined the list this year. At age 41, Ms. Blakely is the world's youngest self-made female billionaire.

Biggest losers: It wasn't the worst year on record, but a few folks on the list lost a pretty penny. Losses ranged from $100 million to $10.4 billion, according to the magazine. And of the 441 people who lost money, at least 81 people lost more than $1 billion.

The biggest loser was Lakshmi Mittal of India, owner of the world's biggest steel company. His net worth dropped $10.4 billion, leaving him with $20.7 billion.

He's still one of the richest men in Asia, but his company struggled with low demand and high costs. Other losers include Olega Deripaska of Russia, whose net worth is roughly half what it was last year as lower prices for aluminum and slowing demand hurt the stock price of his company, United Co.

Global scope: The United States is still home to the most billionaires with 425. But there are now billionaires from 58 countries. Russia and China follow the United States but have fewer billionaires this year at 95 and 96 respectively, down from 115 and 101 who made the list last year.

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