Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Top 10 World's Billionaires

Making a billion just isn't what it used to be. In ranking of the world’s richest people 20 years ago, uncovered some 140 billionaires. Just three years ago found 476. This year the list is a record 793. They’re worth a combined $2.6 trillion, up 18% since last March. Their average net worth: $3.3 billion.

No 1. William Gates III

Age: 50
Fortune: self made
Source: Microsoft

Net Worth: 50.0 $ billion

Microsoft's chief visionary moving further away from day-to-day corporate work. For the first time did not offer a strategy outlook at last year's financial analyst meeting. Instead, prefers to dive into innovative projects, foster collaboration among Microsoft's many divisions. Microsoft aims to be omnipotent, selling software for PCs, servers, cell phones, television set-top boxes, gaming consoles, the Web. At the ripe (tech sector) age of 30, Gates' company impressively beats rivals in profit margins, market capitalization and R&D budget, but its sales growth is slowing to a (recently) single-digit percentage pace. Like elder statesman of computing, IBM, has been investing heavily in its own stock. Diversifies methodically, selling 20 million shares every quarter, reinvesting through Cascade Investment. Big stakes in Canadian National Railway, Republic Services, Berkshire Hathaway. Philanthropy, via $29 billion Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aimed at fighting infectious disease (hepatitis B, AIDS, malaria) and improving high schools.

No 2. Warren Buffett

Age: 75
Fortune: self made
Source: Berkshire Hathaway

Net Worth: 42.0 $billion

Revered investor took it on the chin over Berkshire Hathaway's General Re insurance unit; SEC threatened civil fraud suit against General Re Chief Joseph Brandon over questionable transaction with American International Group. Also got it for his board seat at Coca-Cola, where his "independence" might be compromised by Berkshire's ownership of Dairy Queen, which buys lots of Coke products. Buffett: "Do they want us to favor Pepsi?" At Berkshire set in place two governance reforms: regular meetings of directors without Buffett present; whistleblower line for employees. Sitting on $43 billion in cash, hoped to make some big acquisitions last year, "but I struck out." Instead, invested in foreign currencies: $21 billion bet against the dollar and in favor of various other currencies. "In no way does our thinking about currencies rest on doubts about America." Newspaper delivery boy filed first 1040 at age 13; claimed $35 deduction for bicycle. Studied under Benjamin Graham at Columbia. Applied value-investing principles to build Berkshire Hathaway. Portfolio includes utilities (MidAmerican Energy Holdings), insurance (Geico, General Re), apparel (Fruit of the Loom), flight services (FlightSafety, NetJets). Also chunks of American Express, Coca-Cola, Gillette, Wells Fargo. Instructs managers to run a business as if it's the only asset the manager's family will own over the next 100 years. Prefers his investors to buy equities only after careful analysis. "If they insist on trying to time their participation in equities, they should try to be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful." Says he underestimated the severity of certain stocks' overvaluation during the tech bubble. "I talked when I should have walked." No matter. Since taking control of Berkshire 40 years ago, has delivered compound annual return of 22%. "No wonder we tap-dance to work."

No 3. Carlos Slim Helu

Age: 66
Fortune: inherited and growing
Source: Telecom

Net Worth: 30.0 $billion

Latin America's richest man added more than $6 billion to his fortune this year. He sold off his stakes in MCI and Altria and used the proceeds to up his holding in Saks Inc; in his fixed line operator, Telmex; and in America Movil, his flagship wireless telecom outfit. The latest was a particularly smart move as America Movil's stock has almost doubled in the past year. He also owns 71% of a new public company, Impulsora del Desarollo Economico de America Latina, which he spun off from financial services giant Grupo Financiero Inbursa. Inbursa also invested in a start-up budget airline called Volaris. An art collector, Slim houses his Rodin sculptures in Mexico City's Museo Soumaya, the museum he funded and named after his late wife. His Grupo Carso is reportedly a combination of his first name and his late wife's.

No 4. Ingvar Kamprad

Age: 79
Fortune: self made
Source: Ikea

Net Worth: 28.0 $billion

Peddled matches, fish, pens, Christmas cards and other items by bicycle as a teenager. Started selling furniture in 1947. Now his company Ikea, which sells hip designs for the cost conscious, is one of the most beloved retailers in the world, with an almost cultlike following. Ikea, which has stores in 33 countries, continues to expand into new markets such as Guangzhou, China and Moscow. As egalitarian as his brand, Kamprad avoids wearing suits, flies economy class and frequents cheap restaurants. Has been quoted as saying that his luxuries are occasionally buying a nice cravat and eating Swedish fish roe

No 5. Lakshmi Mittal

Age: 55
Fortune: inherited and growing
Source: Steel

Net Worth: 23.5 $billion

The steel titan now oversees the world's largest steel company, Mittal Steel. In December 2004 he merged his Ispat International with Ohio-based International Steel Group in a $4 billion (in cash and stock) deal. Owns 87.4% of the $28.1 billion (2005 sales) company. An early year double-digit drop in US and European steel prices and fourth-quarter increased spending on coal and iron ore and lower prices helped lead to a 28% drop in 2005 profits to $3.4 billion. On Jan 27, Mittal made a $23.7 billion hostile bid for largest rival, Luxembourg-based Arcelor, in an effort to spark more world steel consolidation and enable Mittal Steel to sell higher grade steel to company's like Ford Motor. Arcelor employing numerous techniques to either fend it off or get a higher price: bought a large stake in a Chinese steel company; enlisted the French government to take up its cause; Luxembourg (the biggest shareholder) introduced a new takeover law; and Arcelor doubled its dividend.

No 6. Paul Allen

Age: 53
Fortune: self made
Source: Microsoft, investments

Net Worth: 22.0 $billion

Microsoft confounder, "wired world" proponent lately finding more promise in pipes delivering oil instead of information. Bought energy outfit Plains Resources for $460 million, controlling stake in Plains All American Pipeline, operator of 15,000 miles of oil pipelines. Through Vulcan Energy unit, paid $250 million for natural gas storage business from Sempra Energy. Hasn't given up entirely on the future. Still maintains dozens of investments in media (Charter Communications), technology (set-top box manufacturer Digeo), biotech. Ten-year-old investment in wannabe Hollywood studio DreamWorks finally showing some returns after company took its animation unit public but planned secondary offering of mostly Allen shares postponed for now. Owner of pro football's Seattle Seahawks took team to its first Super Bowl in February, lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Other pursuits in space (funded SpaceShipOne, first to launch private flight into suborbital space), the open seas (413-foot yacht Octopus armed with 2 helicopters and a 60-foot submarine). His Paul G. Allen Family Foundation has donated heavily to education, art and science causes. Joined buddy Bill Gates in 1975, left the company in 1983 to fight Hodgkin's disease. Has been slowly selling off Microsoft stake ever since.

No 7. Bernard Arnault

Age: 57
Fortune: self made
Source: LVMH

Net Worth: 21.5 $billion

A year of celebration for the "Pope of fashion." His high-end luxury goods empire LVMH, with brands including Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Christian Dior and Mokt & Chandon, posted record sales of $16.6 billion. Stock is up 35% in the past 12 months, also boosting Arnault's fortune, which is almost entirely made up of his LVMH stake. On personal front: his eldest child and LVMH board member, Delphine, 30, got married this fall near Bordeaux. Arnault oversaw all the details of the weekend-long festivities and supposedly captured a lot of the events himself with his digital and video cameras.

No 8. Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud

Age: 49
Fortune: self made
Source: Investments

Net Worth: 20.0 $billion

This nephew of the Saudi king is one of the world's wealthiest investors, with a big stake in Citigroup. Received much publicity–some of it negative–in December 2005 for the $20 million gifts he made to Harvard and Georgetown to expand their Islamic studies departments. In January 2006, with a partner, announced a $3.9 billion deal to buy Fairmont Hotel & Resorts. In February listed his hotel holdings on the Dubai stock exchange. Planning to take his main investment group, Kingdom Holdings, public on the Saudi exchange later this year.

No 9. Kenneth Thomson & family

Age: 82
Fortune: inherited and growing
Source: Publishing

Net Worth: 19.6 $billion

Canada's richest man still holds 68.5% of Thomson Corp. media conglomerate, founded in 1934 by his father, Roy. Today son David is chairman. Lately, Thomson has abandoned traditional printed titles for electronic media and financial services software. In 2004 acquired Tradeweb bond trading platform, which booked $42.8 trillion in trades last year. Same year sold 54 trade publications, including American Banker and The Bond Buyer, to Bahrain's Investcorp for $350 million. In his later years Thomson the elder has amassed an internationally famous art collection of some 3,000 pieces. In 2002 he purchased Peter Paul Rubens' "Massacre of the Innocents" for $77 million, the fourth-highest price ever paid for a painting at auction. The same year Thomson donated 2,000 works to the Art Gallery of Ontario and pledged $60 million for the museum's expansion.

No 10. Li Ka-shing

Age: 77
Fortune: self made
Source: Diversified

Net Worth: 18.8 $billion

Asia's richest and most influential investor's fortune is centered on conglomerates Cheung Kong and Hutchison Whampoa. Real estate developer, cell phone provider, retailer, major supplier of electricity to Hong Kong and the world's largest operator of container terminals. In June donated $180 million to University of Hong Kong; $40 million to University of California, Berkeley. Son Victor helps father run his massive empire, son Richard struck out on own in early 1990s.