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Bill Gates remains on top of `Forbes' billionaire list for 11th year in a row

AFP , WASHINGTON

Bill Gates remained atop the list of richest people in the US, but investor Warren Buffett edged closer, and Google's founders are rising fast, Forbes magazine said Friday.

Forbes' ranking of the 400 wealthiest people in the US featured Microsoft co-founder Gates, 48, at the top for the 11th consecutive year.

Gates's net worth increased by US$2 billion from a year ago to US$48 billion, Forbes said.

But Buffett, the 74-year-old chairman of the Berkshire Hathaway investment group, boosted his net worth by US$5 billion over the past year to US$41 billion.

Ranked third was Paul Allen, 51, a co-founder of Microsoft with Gates who has left the software giant, even though his fortune dipped by US$2 billion over the past year to US$20 billion.

The top rankings were little changed over the past year. But the net worth of the 400 wealthiest Americans rose to a cumulative US$1 trillion -- up US$45 billion in the past year.

To make the list of the top 400, a minimum net worth of US$750 million was required. This year, 78 percent of those on the list were billionaires, or 278 of the 400.

As in last year's ranking, fourth place showed a five-way tie among members of the Walton family, owners of Wal-Mart, the world's largest retail store chain, with a net worth of US$18 billion each. They were Helen Walton, 85; Robson Walton, 60; John Walton, 58; Jim Walton, 56; and Alice Walton, 55.

In the only shift among the top 10, Michael Dell, 39, founder of the computer maker that bears his name, moved into the ninth spot with US$14 billion. Dell moved past Lawrence Ellison, 60, founder of software maker Oracle, who saw his net worth slip by US$4.3 billion to US$13.7 billion, according to Forbes.

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer, age 48, ranked 11th, with US$12.6 billion.

Among the notable newcomers to the Forbes list were the co-founders of Internet search giant Google, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who ranked number 43 on the list with US$4 billion each although they were among the youngest at age 31.

The pair each have 40 million shares of Google, the price of which have surged 40 percent since the company's keenly awaited initial public offering on Aug. 19.

Also on the Forbes list from Google were chief executive Eric Schmidt -- ranking 165th with US$1.5 billion -- and early investor Andreas Bechtolsheim, who was number 278 on the list with US$1 billion.

Sandwiches earned a ticket to the Forbes list for Subway restaurant chain founders Peter Buck and Fred DeLuca, who tied at 165th with US$1.5 billion each from the company with nearly 22,000 outlets worldwide.

Among the dropouts, Disney chief executive Michael Eisner is gone from the list, after a year of shareholder revolts and lackluster results that forced him to renounce his title of chairman.

One organization used the list to highlight inequities in the US economy and tax system.

"It takes a village to raise a billionaire. Every taxpayer deserves some credit for Forbes 400 wealth," says Mike Lapham of Responsible Wealth, which bills itself as a network of affluent people concerned about inequalities.

"Yet while the Forbes 400 richest Americans are doing better this year ... the average taxpayer is not. Median household income fell for the fourth year in a row last year."

The group said many of those on the list went to public universities including Buffett and others made fortunes from government contracts.

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