Everybody hurts…sometimes

March 11, 2009

The World’s Billionaires

03.11.09, 06:00 PM EDT
Luisa Kroll, Matthew Miller and Tatiana Serafin
Forbes.com

It’s been a tough year for the richest people in the world. Last year there were 1,125 billionaires. This year there are just 793 people rich enough to make our list.

The world has become a wealth wasteland. Like the rest of us, the richest people in the world have endured a financial disaster over the past year. Today there are 793 people on our list of the World’s Billionaires, a 30% decline from a year ago.

Of the 1,125 billionaires who made last year’s ranking, 373 fell off the list–355 from declining fortunes and 18 who died. There are 38 newcomers, plus three moguls who returned to the list after regaining their 10-figure fortunes. It is the first time since 2003 that the world has had a net loss in the number of billionaires.

The world’s richest are also a lot poorer. Their collective net worth is $2.4 trillion, down $2 trillion from a year ago. Their average net worth fell 23% to $3 billion. The last time the average was that low was in 2003.

Bill Gates lost $18 billion but regained his title as the world’s richest man. Warren Buffett, last year’s No. 1, saw his fortune decline $25 billion as shares of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) fell nearly 50% in 12 months, but he still managed to slip just one spot to No. 2. Mexican telecom titan Carlos Slim Helú also lost $25 billion and dropped one spot to No. 3.

It was hard to avoid the carnage, whether you were in stocks, commodities, real estate or technology. Even people running profitable businesses were hammered by frozen credit markets, weak consumer spending or declining currencies.

The biggest loser in the world this year, by dollars, was last year’s biggest gainer. India’s Anil Ambani lost $32 billion–76% of his fortune–as shares of his Reliance Communications, Reliance Power and Reliance Capital all collapsed.

Ambani is one of 24 Indian billionaires, all but one of whom are poorer than a year ago. Another 29 Indians lost their billionaire status entirely as India’s stock market tumbled 44% in the past year and the Indian rupee depreciated 18% against the dollar. It is no longer the top spot in Asia for billionaires, ceding that title to China, which has 28.

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Buffett boosts wealth to top Gates on Forbes list

October 10, 2008

Fri Oct 10, 2008 2:28pm EDT
By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Billionaire investor Warren Buffett is again the richest American, deposing Microsoft (MSFT) co-founder Bill Gates, after Forbes magazine recalculated the fortunes of some of the 400 wealthiest Americans.

The magazine took another look at the fortunes of some of the billionaires on its Forbes 400 list to assess the effect of the worst financial crisis since the 1930s Depression and released a select list naming some of those hit hard.

But while 17 billionaires on Forbes list lost more than $1 billion in the past month, Buffett managed to boost his wealth by $8 billion to $58 billion, pushing him ahead of Gates, whose fortune fell to $55.5 billion from $57 billion.

Gates had been ranked No. 1 on the Forbes 400 list for the past 15 years with his Microsoft fortune.

Buffett made his money by building his company Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRK.a) into a $199 billion conglomerate that invests in undervalued companies with strong management. Late last month his company said it would invest $5 billion in Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS).

“We chose to focus on some of the more high-profile billionaires on The Forbes 400, and print a sampling of those who lost over $1 billion during the month of September,” said Forbes senior editor Matthew Miller.


Buffett says economy needs immediate help

October 2, 2008

Thursday October 2, 12:30 pm ET
By Josh Funk, AP Business Writer

Buffett says financial crisis is an ‘economic Pearl Harbor’ that needs immediate counterattack

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Billionaire investor Warren Buffett said the nation has been hit with an “economic Pearl Harbor,” and the government must respond quickly.

Buffett talked about the nation’s ongoing financial woes in an appearance on the “The Charlie Rose Show” that aired Wednesday night on PBS stations.

“This really is an economic Pearl Harbor,” Buffett said. “That sounds melodramatic, but I’ve never used that phrase before. And this really is one.”

Buffett’s spokeswoman did not immediately respond to messages left Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.

Buffett said the nation’s economic problems are already starting to be felt by furniture and jewelry stores such as the ones owned by Buffett’s company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRK.A).

The billionaire predicts that the rest of the “Main Street” economy will start to have problems if the government’s financial bailout plan doesn’t pass Congress soon.

“In my adult lifetime, I don’t think I’ve ever seen people as fearful economically as they are now,” the 78-year-old Buffett said.

The fear in the marketplace has allowed Buffett to make several sizable investments over the past month in proven companies that needed cash quickly. And Berkshire, which had $31.2 billion cash on hand at the end of June, was ready to invest because, Buffett says, he always tries to be greedy when others are fearful.

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Govt trading ban could have unintended results

September 19, 2008

Friday September 19, 5:07 pm ET
By Marcy Gordon and Stevenson Jacobs, AP Business Writers

Big SEC step to ban short-selling of financial stocks could have unintended consequences

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government’s unprecedented move Friday to ban people from betting against financial stocks might be a salve for the market’s turmoil but could also carry serious unintended consequences.

In a bid to shore up investor confidence in the face of the spiraling market crisis, the Securities and Exchange Commission temporarily banned all short-selling in the shares of 799 financial companies. Short selling is a time-honored method for profiting when a stock drops.

The ban took effect immediately Friday and extends through Oct. 2. The SEC said it might extend the ban — so that it would last for as many as 30 calendar days in total — if it deems that necessary.

That window could be enough time to calm the roiling financial markets, with the Bush administration’s massive new programs to buy up Wall Street’s toxic debt possibly starting to have a salutary effect by then.

The short-selling ban is “kind of a time-out,” said John Coffee, a professor of securities law at Columbia University. “In a time of crisis, the dangers of doing too little are far greater than the dangers of doing too much.”

But on Wall Street, professional short-sellers said they were being unfairly targeted by the SEC’s prohibition. And some analysts warned of possible negative consequences, maintaining that banning short-selling could actually distort — not stabilize — edgy markets.

Indeed, hours after the new ban was announced, some of its details appeared to be a work in progress. The SEC said its staff was recommending exemptions from the ban for trades market professionals make to hedge their investments in stock options or futures.

“I don’t think it’s going to accomplish what they’re after,” said Jeff Tjornehoj, senior analyst at fund research firm Lipper Inc. Without short sellers, he said, investors will have a harder time gauging the true value of a stock.

“Most people want to be in a stock for the long run and want to see prices go up. Short sellers are useful for throwing water in their face and saying, `Oh yeah? Think about this,'” Tjornehoj said. As a result, restricting the practice could inflate the value of some stocks, opening the door for a big downward correction later.

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