THE CHANGING FORTUNES OF THE WORLD’S RICHEST
he super rich are a whole lot richer than they were two months ago. Twenty five of the wealthiest people on Forbes’ list of the world’s billionaires are worth a whopping $255 billion more than when the U.S. stock market hit a mid-pandemic low on March 23.
Together these 25 folks–Forbes looked at just those on the list with fortunes tied to public stocks–are worth nearly $1.5 trillion, which is about 16% of the total wealth held by the world’s billionaires.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is the biggest dollar gainer among this rarified group. Facebook shares surged nearly 60% over the past two months, hitting a record high on Friday May 22. Investors responded positively to the Wednesday debut of Shops, Facebook’s effort to host digital storefronts for small business owners. Zuckerberg, now worth $86.5 billion, has become the fourth-richest person in the world, up from the No. 7 richest on Forbes’ 2020 list of the World’s Billionaires, published in early April. The 36-year-old is now richer than Warren Buffett, Inditex founder Amancio Ortega and Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison.
The second-largest gainer in dollar terms is also the world’s richest man, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. Shares of the ecommerce giant have continued on a tear amid increased demand since coronavirus shuttered physical retailers. Amazon stock is up 29% since March 23. As of the end of the day Friday, Bezos was worth $146.9 billion, up $30 billion and 26% since March 23.
The biggest percentage gainer is Colin Zheng Huang, the founder of China’s second largest online marketplace (behind Alibaba), Pinduoduo. Boosted by the firm’s social shopping model, in which users share purchases with friends and family, and an aggressive campaign offering subsidized deals to consumers, Pinduoduo’s shares have nearly doubled since March 23, and Huang, its 40-year-old founder and CEO, has added $17.9 billion to his fortune; he’s now China’s third-richest person, worth $35.6 billion.
Another notable gainer: Mukesh Ambani, who became Asia’s richest person in April after Facebook announced a $5.7 billion investment into Mumbai-based Reliance Jio, a telecom subsidiary of the sprawling conglomerate founded by Ambani’s late father. The company has since raised loads more, including $1.5 billion from private equity giant KKR on Friday and $750 million from investment firm Silver Lake earlier this month. All told, the firm has raked in $10 billion of fresh capital in less than one month. Ambani is now worth $52.7 billion, up nearly $20 billion since the market trough.
Billionaires with net worths tied to stakes in technology companies have led the way for gains amid the pandemic. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index turned positive for the year earlier this month, and it’s up 37% since March 23. The S&P 500 and Dow Jones, meanwhile, are up about 31% each–still down roughly 10% and 15% for the year, respectively.
Not a single top 25 fortune has fallen since March 23. The fortunes of Jim, Alice and Robert Walton, for example, grew the least percentage-wise, but they’re still up $3.6 billion each. Walmart shares hit an all-time high in mid-April after the first round of stimulus checks made their way to American bank accounts, and they’ve managed to stay near their peak. On Tuesday, the firm reported quarterly revenue that surged almost 10% to $134.6 billion, boosted by a 74% increase in online sales. Combined, the three billionaire Walmart heirs are worth close to $165 billion.
The figures stand in stark contrast to those at the other end of the wealth spectrum. In the U.S. total unemployment claims have risen to 39 million since mid-March, affecting about a quarter of the U.S. labor force.