NEW YORK (Reuters) - Rising steel and oil prices in Russia, more honest disclosure in Brazil and booming economies in China and India have fueled a spike in billionaires in the so-called BRIC countries.
Moscow is now home to the most billionaires with 79, followed by New York with 58, Forbes said in its annual list of the world’s richest people.
The world’s richest man, Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, retained his crown for the second year in a row and made more money than any of the other 1,209 billionaires in the past year: $20.5 billion, taking his fortune to $74 billion.
The magazine said China nearly doubled its number of billionaires to 115, while Russia and Brazil posted two-thirds jumps to 101 and 30, respectively. It was the first time countries outside the United States produced over 100 billionaires.
India added six billionaires, taking its total to 55, “but the average net worth ... is huge — $4.5 billion for an Indian billionaire versus $2.5 billion for a Chinese billionaire,” said Forbes Chief Executive Steve Forbes.
Russia’s billionaire growth was attributed to a commodities boom. Brazil’s increase came from stricter disclosure rules and a stronger currency. In China and India, strong economies helped create billionaires from a range of industries.
“The bottom line is BRICs, commodities and Asia Pacific,” Forbes told a news conference on Wednesday. “There is a global commodities boom. But as we should have learned ... commodities can go up very sharply, they can go down very sharply.”
The Reuters Jefferies CRB commodities index rose 17 percent last year and is up another 8 percent this year as copper and gold hit record highs, grains are near their 2008 peaks and, most recently, oil surged beyond $100 a barrel.
Brazil, Russia, India and China produced half the world’s 214 new billionaires, double last year’s 97 newcomers. The Asia Pacific was home to 105 newcomers, three-quarters of whom earned their fortunes from stakes in public companies.
Around the world, the top industries for producing new billionaires were energy, fashion and retail, manufacturing, finance and diversified, Forbes said.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates held on to second place, growing his wealth to $56 billion from $53 billion last year, and investor Warren Buffett again came in third with $50 billion, up from $47 billion.
Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc has fared better than Gates’ Microsoft. Microsoft shares now trade about where they were a decade ago, while Berkshire shares have roughly doubled. Slim’s major companies, which include Mexico’s former state telecoms monopoly Telmex, have also seen stock price gains.
Forbes said that Gates would have still been the richest man in the world if he had not so far given $28 billion of his wealth to his foundation. He was only knocked off the top spot on the list twice between 1995 and 2010.
The wealth of the world’s billionaires jumped 25 percent to $4.5 trillion and their average net worth rose to $3.7 billion from $3.5 billion. There were 47 people who dropped off the list, 42 who returned and 10 people who died. The number of women grew to 102 from 89 last year.
While positions have shifted, the top 20 was largely unchanged. New this year were Russian steel baron Vladimir Lisin, U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and manufacturing and energy billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch.
Adelson — whose Las Vegas Sands Corp came close to defaulting on its debt last year — posted the biggest increase in wealth behind Slim. His fortune grew to $23.3 billion from $14 billion, and he soared to No. 16 from No. 73 last year.
The Asia-Pacific’s growth in wealth has also fueled a luxury goods demand, helping grow the fortune of Europe’s richest man, LVMH Chief Executive Bernard Arnault, to $41 billion from $27.5 billion. He rose to No. 4 from No. 7.
“The global economy is recovering, but it is not all spread across the board,” said Forbes. “Yes, there are increases (the number of billionaires) in Europe, but primarily it is Russia. The United States barely registered an increase.”
“In terms of wealth, the dog that isn’t barking is Japan,” said Forbes, referencing a Sherlock Holmes novel. “(It has) a fairly small number of billionaires compared to the size of the economy.”
The number of U.S. billionaires rose to 413 from 403, including three new Facebook billionaires — Sean Parker, Eduardo Saverin and Dustin Moskovitz — who join founder Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook investor Peter Thiel.
Moskovitz is also the youngest billionaire in the world at 26 and with a fortune of $2.7 billion, while the honor of being the oldest goes to Swiss tech billionaire Walter Haefner, who is 100 and worth $4 billion.
Canadian David Thomson, who owns Thomson Reuters, widened his lead over his financial news and data rival, New York City Mayor and Bloomberg owner Michael Bloomberg. Thomson rose three spots to No. 17 with $23 billion, while Bloomberg fell seven spots to No. 30 with a fortune of $18.1 billion.
Forbes ranked the billionaires’ fortunes at the close of global stock markets on February 14, 2011. The full Forbes ranking of the world’s billionaires can be seen at www.forbes.com/billionaires
Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Mark Egan and Gary Hill