World Economy

World’s Richest Got Poorer

World’s Richest Got PoorerWorld’s Richest Got Poorer

The richest people on Earth became a bit poorer this year. The world’s 400 wealthiest individuals shed $19 billion in 2015, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Falling commodities prices and signs of a slower-growing China spooked investors around the world leading to the first annual decline for the daily wealth index since its 2012 debut.

“After three great years, 2015 stock markets worry-wiggled sideways,” said billionaire Ken Fisher, the founder of Fisher Investments that manages more than $65 billion. “Fears over an oil glut, soft consumer spending and China breaking like a plate and taking commodities with it saw investors take fright.”

Mexican telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim was the biggest decliner on the index at the close of trading in New York on Dec. 28, as his America Movil SAB dropped 25% in 2015. The world’s richest person in May 2013, Slim fell to No. 5 this year after losing almost $20 billion as regulators ratcheted up efforts to break apart the business that controls the majority of Mexico’s landlines and mobile phones.

 Some Got Richer

US investor Warren Buffett, the world’s third-richest person, lost $11.3 billion as Berkshire Hathaway Inc. had its first negative annual return since 2011. Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates, the world’s richest person since May 2013, fell by $3 billion during the year.

Gates’ losses and the continued rise of Inditex SA, the world’s largest fashion retailer, lifted Spain’s Amancio Ortega within about $10 billion of the top slot. Ortega, Europe’s richest person since June 2012, leapfrogged Slim and Buffett as he rose $12.1 billion to $73.2 billion.

His 20% rise was still $19 billion short of the increase for the year’s top-gainer, Inc. founder Jeff Bezos. The New Mexico-born billionaire more than doubled his fortune to $59 billion as investors cheered profits at the world’s largest online retailer. Bezos added $31 billion in 2015, undoing the $7.4 billion decline he had in 2014 and propelling him up 16 positions to No. 4 on the index.

The world’s 400 richest people control a combined $3.9 trillion, according to the index, more than the GDP of every country on Earth except for the US, China and Japan. At their peak on May 18, the billionaires had almost $4.3 trillion, a $267 billion increase from Jan. 1. In August they lost those gains and more when a global sell off claimed as much as $182 billion in a week.

The market declines knocked 49 billionaires off the daily ranking this year, including Glencore Plc. chief executive Ivan Glasenberg and Wang Jing, a Chinese telecom entrepreneur who personally invested $500 million to help Nicaragua build an alternative to the Panama Canal. Glasenberg lost two-thirds of his fortune as he raced to slash debt at the Swiss commodities company and Wang fell by about 86% this year.

Brazilian banking billionaire Andre Esteves, former head of Latin America’s largest independent investment bank who was last ranked by the index in 2014, fell even further this year when his fortune declined by $1.5 billion. Esteves was hauled off to jail by police in November for allegedly trying to interfere in a corruption investigation.