The richest people on Earth lost US$511 billion this year after record first-half gains were obliterated by a succession of bruising market sell-offs.
Global trade tensions and worries about a US recession dragged markets lower at year-end, leaving the 500 people on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index with a combined net worth of US$4.7 trillion as of Friday’s close.
“As of late, investor anxiety has run high,” Northern Trust Wealth Management chief investment officer Katie Nixon said. “We do not expect a recession, but we are mindful of the downside risks to global growth.”
Even Amazon.com Inc founder Jeff Bezos, who recorded the biggest gain this year, was not spared the volatility. His fortune peaked at US$168 billion in September, a US$69 billion gain. It later tumbled US$53 billion to leave him with US$115 billion at year-end.
Bezos had a better year than Facebook Inc cofounder Mark Zuckerberg, who recorded the biggest loss since January, dropping US$23 billion as the firm careened from crisis to crisis.
Overall, the 173 US billionaires on the list — the largest cohort — lost 5.9 percent from their fortunes to leave them with US$1.9 trillion.
Even Asia’s fabled wealth-creation machine stumbled as the region’s 128 billionaires lost a combined US$144 billion. The three biggest losers in Asia all hailed from China, led by Wanda Group’s (萬達集團) Wang Jianlin (王健林), whose fortune declined US$11.1 billion.
The Middle East had an even more turbulent year. While many of the billionaires ensnared in Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s corruption crackdown were released, doubt and fear about the powerful royal’s methods sent a chill through the Saudi economy.
The kingdom’s richest person, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who was released in March after 83 days in detention, lost US$3.4 billion.
One of the remaining Saudi captives, Mohammed al-Amoudi, managed to become richer during his year in detention, as the value of his Swedish energy and property assets rose.
Meanwhile, Africa’s richest saw their fortunes shrink by 14 percent as the emerging-market rout hammered assets.
From Zara founder Amancio Ortega to former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, most of Europe’s billionaires saw their fortunes fall.
Germany’s Schaeffler family, the majority shareholders of Continental AG, lost the most as extra costs and tough business conditions in Europe and Asia hampered the company’s performance.
Georg Schaeffler and his mother, Maria-Elisabeth Schaeffler-Thumann, are US$17 billion worse off than at the start of the year. That sum alone would place them among the world’s 100 richest people.
Mexico’s Carlos Slim, the majority shareholder of Latin America’s largest cellphone operator, also suffered big losses. Once the world’s richest person, Slim now ranks sixth with a US$54 billion pile.
Among Latin American billionaires, 3G Capital cofounder Jorge Paulo Lemann saw his fortune drop the most, losing US$9.8 billion. However, even with that fall, he remains Brazil’s richest person.
Russian fortunes on average fared better. The volatility caused by collapsing oil prices, a flare-up in tensions with the Ukraine and tightening sanctions was partially offset by periodic gains. The combined net worth of the country’s 25 wealthiest people was down only slightly, ending at US$255 billion, the ranking showed.
Aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, who remains under US sanctions, lost the most — US$5.7 billion — and dropped out the Bloomberg ranking of the world’s top 500 richest people.
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