The 300 richest people on the planet are US$524 billion better off than this time last year, with the world’s richest man, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, increasing his fortune by US$15.8 billion to US$78.5 billion.
Research by Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index showed that the world’s 300 richest are now collectively worth US$3.7 trillion — more than one-and-a-half times Britain’s GDP.
Gates, who regained the title in May last year from Mexican telecoms magnate Carlos Slim, made most of his gains from the 40 percent increase in the price of Microsoft shares.
He owns about 4.5 percent of the company he founded in 1975 and is still the largest individual shareholder.
He also benefited from rallies in other stocks in his portfolio, including Canadian National Railway company (up 34 percent) and hand sanitizer company Ecolab (up 45 percent).
The US’ S&P 500 index last year made its biggest gains since 1997.
Gates holds stakes in about 35 public-listed companies and many private firms, including Four Season Hotels, via investment company Cascade Investments.
Less than a quarter of his wealth is held in Microsoft shares. He has donated US$28 billion to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is trying to eradicate polio, malaria and measles.
The second-biggest gainer last year was Sheldon Adelson, the founder of Las Vegas Sands, the world’s largest casino company.
His fortune grew by US$14.4 billion following a 71 percent rise in the company’s share price.
Despite its name, most of the company’s growth came from the tiny Chinese city of Macau, where casinos collected US$45 billion in gambling revenues last year — about seven times as much as Las Vegas.
Only 70 of the 300 on the list made a loss last year.
The biggest was Eike Batista, who has plummeted from being ranked the world’s eighth richest man in March last year to having a “negative net worth,” according to Bloomberg.
Eike, a Brazilian who had made US$30 billion from oil and gas exploration, lost it all when his company, Oleo e Gas Participacoes, filed for bankruptcy protection in October last year.
More than 100 billionaires were created last year, including the youngest female billionaire, Lynsi Torres, the 31-year-old owner and president of US burger chain In-N-Out.