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Sat, Feb 28, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Billionaires getting richer and more numerous

RAKING IT IN Last year's economic recovery created 64 new billionaires, including Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and Esprit clothing chain owner Michael Ying

AFP , NEW YORK

Financial magnate Warren Buffet, whose wealth rose US$12.4 billion last year, was the second richest man in the world.

PHOTO: AP

The world's richest people got a whole lot richer in the past year, and more numerous, with Forbes magazine adding 64 new members Thursday to its annual billionaire's list -- headed once again by Bill Gates.

Among the most prominent debutantes on the Forbes ranking was Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who just a few years ago was a penniless single mother struggling to make ends meet.

After two years of declining fortunes caused by a weakened global economy, the total net worth of the world's billionaires soared by US$500 billion, from US$1.4 trillion last year to US$1.9 trillion.

Microsoft co-founder Gates headed the list for the 10th year in a row, with an estimated net worth of US$46.6 billion, up from US$40.7 billion the previous year.

But his position was looking more vulnerable than ever. Legendary investor Warren Buffet added US$12.4 billion -- the biggest gain of anyone on the list -- to leave him just short of Gates with US$42.9 billion.

This year's total of 587 billionaires was a Forbes record, with 56 "comeback" billionaires joining the 64 rookies and the others on last year's list.

Rowling, 38, ranked a joint 552nd on the list with a straight US$1 billion, alongside the creators of the popular Google search engine, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who have barely turned 30 and plan to take their company public this year.

Other new boys on the billionaire block were Canadian impresario Guy Laliberte, creator of Cirque du Soleil, and Hong Kong's Michael Ying, whose Esprit apparel line looks set to conquer the globe.

Thanks to rising oil prices, Russia minted eight new billionaires, bringing that country's total to 25 -- the third-highest concentration of billionaires in the world behind the US and Germany.

Not all were able to spend it, however, with Russian oil barons Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev joining Japanese tycoon Yasuo Takei on the ignominious sub-list of billionaires in jail or police custody.

Nine Asians returned to the list, a testament to the improving world economy. The highest-ranking Asian was Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing (李嘉誠), who came in 19th with a net worth of US$12.4 billion.

The average age on the billionaire honor roll was 64, with only 27 members of the 10-figure club coming in under the 40-year-old mark.

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