The net worth of Slim, 70, who built a telecommunications empire after buying Mexico’s state-run phone monopoly two decades ago, rose $18.5 billion to $53.5 billion. Gates, 54, chairman of Microsoft Corp., fell to second as his net worth increased $13 billion to $53 billion. Buffett, 79, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., was third with $47 billion, a rise of $10 billion.
Slim is the first person other than Gates, last year’s richest person, or Buffett to top the list since 1994, which was also the last time a billionaire from outside the U.S. led the ranking: Japanese real estate tycoon Yoshiaki Tsutsumi.
“We’ve been watching Slim for a while and kind of wondered when the stars would align and he would take over,” Forbes senior editor Luisa Kroll said in an interview today.
More than 80 percent of Slim’s holdings are held in five public stocks, she said. “His net worth really reflects how well those stocks are doing. Everything that he owns has done very, very well this year.”
Mexican shares of America Movil SAB, the wireless carrier controlled by Slim, have gained more than 56 percent in the last year, according to Bloomberg data. The company’s reach extends to 18 countries in the Western hemisphere, including Mexico, Brazil and the U.S., where it is the biggest carrier of prepaid wireless service.
Slim’s Telefonos de Mexico SAB remains the biggest landline phone company in the country, with about 80 percent of the lines. His Telmex Internacional SAB, which America Movil is planning to buy, controls Brazil’s biggest long-distance and cable TV companies as well as phone and video carriers in Colombia, Peru and other South American countries.
Slim’s holdings in Mexico extend from retail, with the Sanborns department store chain, through banking and construction. Through his holding companies and investment vehicles, he holds stakes in U.S. companies including the New York Times Co., Saks Inc. and Bronco Drilling Co.
“His management of America Movil, which I believe is the principal reason for his wealth, has been exceptional,” said Jose Miguel Garaicochea, who helps manage 10 billion pesos ($793 million) in stocks, including the wireless carrier, at Banco Santander SA. “And when he has gone outside of Mexico, he has also done very well.”
Asia’s richest person, Mukesh Ambani, 52, of India, chairman of Mumbai-based refiner and energy explorer Reliance Industries Ltd., was ranked fourth with $29 billion, up from $19.5 billion last year, when he was seventh.
Lakshmi Mittal, 59, also of India, the chief executive officer of the world’s biggest steelmaker, ArcelorMittal, rose to fifth from eighth. Mittal’s net worth increased $9.4 billion to $28.7 billion as shares of his company have almost doubled in the past year.
Larry Ellison, 65, chief executive of Oracle Corp., fell to sixth from fourth as his net worth increased $5.5 billion to $28 billion. Bernard Arnault, 61, of France, chairman and chief executive of luxury goods maker LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, rose to seventh from 15th as his net worth jumped $11 billion to $27.5 billion.
Brazilian mining magnate Eike Batista, 53, had the biggest increase in net worth, rising to $27 billion from $7.5 billion and boosting his rank to eighth from 61st. Spain’s richest man, Amancio Ortega, 73, chairman and founder of clothing retailer Inditex SA, rose to ninth from 10th as his net worth jumped $6.7 billion to $25 billion.
Karl Albrecht, a co-founder of discount retailer Aldi Group, rounded out the list’s top 10, falling to 10th from sixth place as his net worth rose $2 billion to $23.5 billion.
The number of billionaires climbed to 1,011 from 793 last year, although still below the rankings’ high of 1,125 in 2008. Their cumulative net worth increased to $3.6 trillion from $2.4 trillion, and the average jumped $500 million to $3.5 billion as the world economy began to rebound from its worst slump since the Great Depression.
The list includes billionaires from 55 countries. The U.S. has the most with 403, up from 359 last year, while Europe follows with 248. The Asia-Pacific region has 234 people in the rankings, up from 130 in 2009, including 62 newcomers.
“The global boom that we experienced from the 1980s, particularly since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which was temporarily derailed in 2007, now looks like it’s beginning to get back on track,” the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Steve Forbes, said at a press conference in New York today. “But Asia and a handful of others are surging, relatively the United States and western Europe are lagging.”
The Forbes rankings are based on information including stakes in publicly traded and privately held companies; real estate holdings; and investments in items such as art, gems and yachts; and compiled as of the close of U.S. markets on Feb. 12.
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