World’s billionaire club falls 30%, Forbes says in annual tally

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The meltdown of global financial markets slashed the ranks of the world’s billionaires by 30% in 2008, Forbes magazine reports in its annual tally of the planet’s richest people.

‘The world has become a wealth wasteland,’ Forbes declares in the billionaire report on its website today. ‘Like the rest of us, the richest people in the world have endured a financial disaster over the past year.’


Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates endured a disaster that I’m sure most people would love to experience for themselves: His net worth dived to $40 billion from $58 billion a year earlier.

Despite that decline he reclaimed the title of World’s Richest Man, because two other billionaires lost more, on paper, than Gates did.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. CEO Warren E. Buffett, who was No. 1 on last year’s list, sank to No. 2 as his net worth plunged to $37 billion from $62 billion.

And Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim Helu slid to No. 3, with wealth of $35 billion, down from $60 billion.

Overall, the number of billionaires fell to 793 from 1,125 a year ago, Forbes said. Their collective net worth: $2.4 trillion, a drop of $2 trillion from last year.

But there’s good news, of sorts, for America: ‘After slipping in recent years, the U.S. is regaining its dominance as a repository of wealth,’ Forbes said. ‘Americans account for 44% of the money and 45% of the list’s slots, up seven and three percentage points from last year, respectively.’

And even though Wall Street is a shadow of its former self, New York City regained its title as the billionaire capital of the world, after losing out to upstart Moscow last year.

New York has 55 of the wealthiest people on this year’s list. No. 2 is London, with 28. Then come Moscow (27), Hong Kong (21), Los Angeles (17), Dallas (14), Istanbul (13) and San Francisco (12).

After Gates, Buffett and Slim, here’s how the list of the 10 richest people rounds out (name, source of wealth, and 2008 net worth):

No. 4: Lawrence Ellison, U.S. software giant Oracle Corp., $22.5 billion.

No. 5: Ingvar Kamprad, Swedish retailer IKEA, $22 billion.

No. 6: Karl Albrecht, German supermarket giant Aldi, $21.5 billion.

No. 7: Mukesh Ambani, Indian petrochemicals, $19.5 billion.

No. 8: Lakshmi Mittal, Indian steel, $19.3 billion.

No. 9: Theo Albrecht, German supermarket giant Aldi and the Monrovia-based Trader Joe’s chain in the U.S., $18.8 billion.

No. 10: Amancio Ortega, Spanish retailing, $18.3 billion.

-- Tom Petruno

Top photo: Bill Gates. Credit: Manan Vatsyayana / AFP Getty Images