The richest people on the planet got even richer in 2012, adding $241 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 stood at $1.9 trillion at the market close Dec. 31, according to the index. Of the people who appeared on the final ranking of 2012, only 16 registered a net loss for the 12-month period.
"Last year was a great one for the world's billionaires," said John Catsimatidis, the billionaire owner of Red Apple Group Inc., 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 U.S. — 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 to $57.5 billion, a gain of $22.2 billion, according to the index, as shares of the retailer that operates the Zara clothing chain rose 66.7%.
"It's an amazing company that has done great, and the gains are quite justified given its performance," said Christodoulos Chaviaras, an analyst at Barclays in London who's had an "equalweight" rating on Inditex for about a year. "Can they repeat that? It will be harder. A lot of the positive news is already reflected in the share price."
Global stocks soared in 2012. The MSCI World Index gained 13.2% during the year to close at 1338.50 on Dec. 31. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 13.4% to close at 1426.19.
European stocks surged in the second half of the year. The Stoxx Europe 600 index is up 19.6% since June 4, advancing as the European Central Bank introduced bond-buying programs, S&P; upgraded Greece's debt and German business confidence rose more than forecast. The benchmark gauge's 14.4% advance for the year was the best annual return since 2009.
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 $13.4 billion, or 21.6%, through Dec. 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. The largest mobile phone operator in the Americas by subscribers fell 5.8% to close at 14.9 pesos at the end of the year.
U.S. software mogul Bill Gates, 57, ranks second on the list, trailing Slim by $12.5 billion. The Microsoft Corp. co-founder added $7 billion to his net worth as shares of the Redmond, Wash., company rose 2.9%. Microsoft stock accounts for less than 20% of the billionaire's fortune.
Warren Buffett, 82, lost his title as the world's third-richest man to Ortega on Aug. 6. The Berkshire Hathaway Inc. chairman gained $5.1 billion 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 $42.9-billion 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% in 2012.
Brazil's Eike Batista, 56, was the year's biggest loser by dollars, falling $10.1 billion. The commodities maven, who vowed a year ago that he'd become the world's wealthiest man by 2015, sold a 5.63% stake in his EBX Group Co. in March to Abu Dhabi's Mubadala Development Co.
As part of the deal, he pledged an unspecified additional stake in 2019 if he fails to meet a 5% annual return on the sovereign wealth fund's $2-billion investment, according to a person with knowledge of the deal. Batista now ranks 75th in the world with a net worth of $12.4 billion. On March 27, he was worth $34.5 billion and ranked 8th on the Bloomberg index.
Batista's 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 $18.8-billion fortune. The country's second-richest person is Dirce Camargo, the matriarch behind Camargo Correa, the Sao Paulo conglomerate that has interests in cement, electricity and Havaianas flip-flops. Her net worth is $13.4 billion, 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 bestselling yogurt brand in the U.S.; South Africa's Nathan "Natie" Kirsh, 80, who amassed a $5.4-billion fortune in retail and real estate; and Elaine Marshall, 70, whose 14.6% ownership of closely held Koch Industries makes her the fourth-richest woman in America. She is worth $14.1 billion.
Koch Industries' two other shareholders, the brothers Charles and David Koch, are each worth $40.9 billion, up $7.1 billion, or 20.9%, for the year.
Oracle Corp. founder Larry Ellison rose $6.4 billion in 2012 as shares of the world's largest database company jumped 31.7%. 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% of Hawaii's Lanai island. The 141-square-mile parcel with no traffic lights was purchased from billionaire David Murdock, the 89-year-old chairman of Dole Food Co., the world's largest producer of fresh fruit and vegetables.
The bulk of Ellison's fortune comes from his 23.5% stake in Oracle. He also has interests in software makers NetSuite Inc. and LeapFrog Enterprises Inc., as well as property holdings, including estates in California and Newport, R.I.