Wealthiest become $1 trillion richer
While fortune of the world’s richest swelled up 23 per cent this year to top $5 trillion, 67 more billionaires were uncovered in 2017

The richest pe­ople on earth became $1 trillion richer in 2017, more than 4 times last year’s gain, as stock markets shrugged off economic, social and political divisions to reach record highs.

The 23 per cent increase on the Bloomberg billionai­res index, a daily ranking of the world’s 500 richest peop­le, compares with an alm­ost 20 per cent rise for both MSCI world index and St­a­ndard & Poor’s 500 index.

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos added the most in 2017, a $34,2 billion gain that knocked Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates out of his spot as the world’s richest person in October. Gates, 62, had held the spot since May 2013, and has been donating much of his fortune to charity, including a $4.6 billion pledge he made to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in August.

Bezos, whose net worth topped $100 billion at the end of November, currently has a net worth of $99.6 billion compared with $91.3 billion for Gates.

George Soros also gave away a substantial part of his fortune, revealing in October that his family office had given $18 billion to his Open Society Foundations over the past several years, dropping the billionaire investor to number 195 on the Bloo­mberg ranking, with a net worth of $8 billion.

By the end of trading on Tuesday, the 500 billionaires controlled $5.3 trillion, up from $4.4 tr­i­llion on December 27, 2016. “It’s part of the second-most robust and second-longest bull market in history,” said Mike Ryan, chief investment officer for the Americas at UBS Wealth Management, on December 18. “Of all the guidance we gave people over the course of this year, the most important advice was staying invested,” Ryan said.

Winners

The 38 Chinese billionaires on the Bloomberg index added $177 billion in 2017, a 65 per cent gain that was the biggest of the 49 countries represented.

Hui Ka Yan, founder of developer China Evergrande Group, added $25.9 billion, a 350 per cent jump from last year, and the second-biggest US dollar gain on the index, after Bezos. Technology billionaire Ma Huateng, co-founder of messaging se­r­vice Tencent Holdings, became Asia’s second-richest person when his fortune ne­arly doubled to $41 billion.

The number of Asian billionaires surpassed the US for the first time, according to a UBS Group and PricewaterhouseCoopers report.

The US has the largest presence on the Bloomberg billionaires index, with 159 billionaires who added $315 billion, an 18 per cent gain that gives them a collective net worth of $2 trillion.

Russia’s 27 richest people put behind them the econ­o­mic pain that followed president Vladimir Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, add­ing $29 billion to $275 billion, surpassing the collective net worth they had before western economic sanctions began.

It was also a banner year for tech moguls, with the 57 technology billionaires on the index adding $262 billion, a 35 per cent increase that was the most of any sector on the ranking.

Technology was the best performing sector in 2017. Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg had the fourth-largest US dollar increase on the index, adding $22.6 billion, or 45 per cent, and filed plans to sell 18 per cent of his stake in the social media giant as part of his plan to give away the majority of his $72.6 billion fortune.

In all, the 440 billionaires on the index who added to their fortunes in 2017, gain­ed a combined $1.05 trillion.

Losers

The fortune of French tele­communications billionaire Patrick Drahi fell $4.1 billion to $6.3 billion, a 39 per cent drop. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the richest person in Saudi Arabia, dropped $1.9 billion to $17.8 billion after he was detained in a crackdown against corruption led by crown prince Moha­mmed bin Salman that targeted royals, government officials and business leaders.

There were 60 billionaires who fell from the ranking, including South African retailer Christo Wiese, who­se fortune dropped to $1.8 billion from a peak of $7.7 billion, in August 2016, after news of an accounting scandal at his Steinhoff International Holdings broke on December 5. Sumner Redstone, 94, also fell off the list as CBS owner Viacom Inc continued to grapple with a bitter battle for control between his daughter and other executives, while Rupert Murdoch, 86, sidestep­ped succession concerns with a December deal to sell much of 21st Century Fox Inc’s entertainment assets to Walt Disney. While Redstone shed $90 million, Murdoch added $2.7 billion.

In all, the 58 of the 500 billionaires who saw their fortunes shrink in 2017, lost a combined $46 billion.

New wealth

The Bloomberg index discovered 67 hidden billionaires in 2017. Renaissance Technologies’s Henry Lau­fer was identified with a net worth of $4 billion in April. Robert Mercer, 71, who pla­ns to step down as co-CEO of the world’s most profitable trading fund on January 1, couldn’t be confirmed as a billionaire.

While two fish billionaires found by index were Russia’s Vitaly Orlov and Chuck Bundrant of Trident Seafood, two New York real estate moguls were identified as Ben Ashkenazy and Joel Wiener. A Brazilian tycoon who built a $1.3 billion fortune with Latin America’s biggest wind developer was interviewed in April.

Several technology startup billionaires were identified, including the chief executive officer of Roku Inc and the two co-founders of Wayfair Inc.

Investor euphoria created a number of bitcoin billionaires, including Tyler and Cameron Winkelvoss, with the value of the cryptocurrency soaring to more than $16,000 on Tuesday, up from $1,140 on January 4. The leap came with a chorus of warnings, including from Janet Yellen, who called the emerging tender a “highly speculative asset” at her last news conference as chair of the Federal Reserve, on December 13.

With wealth surging to new highs, billionaires may quickly learn that a billion dollars doesn’t buy what it used to. The price of housing has topped $300 million, the cost of divorce has hit $1 billion and a rediscovered painting by Leonardo da Vinci sold for $450.3 million at a Christie’s auction in November, the most expensive work ever sold.

“Would you believe it?” Eli Broad, who has a $7.4 billion fortune and his own museum in Los Angeles, said after the sale. “It’s wild.”