World’s richest people get richer despite Covid... or because of it

Forbes unveils record-breaking list of newly-minted billionaires and unprecedented surge in wealth for 86% of them

Photo: Forbes A great statistics that shows how the number of billionaires worldwide and their combined net worth was rising in the last 35 years

During an extraordinary year, the number of billionaires on Forbes’ 35th annual list of the world’s wealthiest exploded to an unprecedented 2,755 - 660 more than a year ago. What's more, altogether they are worth $13.1trn, up from $8trn on the 2020 list, with dozens of newly-minted billionaires making their fortunes in areas related to combating the pandemic 

Speaking of newcomers, the ranking shows a record high of 493 newcomers to the list - roughly one new billionaire every 17 hours, including 210 from China and Hong Kong and 98 from the US. The richest newcomer, at $38.2bn, is Miriam Adelson of Nevada, who inherited her husband Sheldon Adelson’s casino empire following his death in January. Other notable new entrants include movie and TV producer Tyler Perry, Bumble dating app co-founder Whitney Wolfe Herd - the world’s youngest self-made woman billionaire, and Europe’s Guillaume Pousaz, founder of payments firm Checkout.com. Reality star Kim Kardashian West's net worth also surpassed $1bn for the first time thanks to the success of her businesses KKW Beauty and Skims.

Among the new entrants were also 40 people who, according to Forbes, benefited from the rising values of companies involved in the fight against Covid-19. These included Stephane Bancel, chief executive of vaccine-maker Moderna, who is now worth $4.3bn, and BioNTech founder Uğur Şahin, now worth $4bn, whose company partnered on the Pfizer vaccine. However, the wealthiest of the pandemic billionaires was Li Jianquan, president of Chinese medical products manufacturer Winner Medical, and his family, worth $6.8bn. The company makes masks and other disposal medical gear, for frontline workers.

Meanwhile, Austin Russell, who dropped out of Stanford to create autonomous vehicle sensor company Luminar Technologies, is now the new youngest self-made billionaire in the world, at the age of 26. His company went public in December, making him worth $2.4bn.

As for the richest person in the world altogether, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos is keeping his place with a net worth of $177bn. This happened despite competition from Tesla founder Elon Musk, who has been hot on his heels in the past year. But this year Musk rocketed from 31st position in 2020’s list to second place in this year’s. According to estimates, he has a $151bn fortune - a whopping $126.4bn more than a year ago. The main reason? Surprisingly, it's not because of his space endeavors, but because of a 705% climb in Tesla shares. 

French luxury goods tycoon Bernard Arnault holds onto his spot at No. 3 but his fortune also nearly doubled to $150bn, from $76bn, due to an 86% rise in the shares of LVMH, owner of brands including Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior and cosmetics retailer Sephora.

Interestingly enough, Arnault and Musk were not the only ones, who saw an unprecedented surge in their wealth. The Forbes analysis found that 86% of all billionaires are richer than a year ago, as stock market valuations of many companies climbed higher. Including Jeff Bezos’s ex-wife MacKenzie Scott, who recently got remarried to science teacher Dan Jewett, and was even named the third-richest woman in the world and also the pandemic’s biggest philanthropist, giving away $5.8bn in grants to 500 organisations.

All of this comes at a time when many around the world have been hit hard financially by Covid-19, with the Intenational Monetary Fund saying in its latest report today that the cumulative loss in income per person over the period between 2020 and 2022 is likely to be 20% in developing countries, and 11% in the developed world.

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