[DEBATE] : Forbes rich list highlights pre-banking crisis fortunes
Riaz K Tayob
riaz.tayob at gmail.com
Fri Sep 19 11:05:44 BST 2008
Forbes rich list highlights pre-banking crisis fortunes
• Microsoft chair, Bill Gates, tops list at $57bn
• Financial crisis to hit many of 400 richest Americans
* Richard Wray
* Friday September 19 2008 09:10 BST
* Article history
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates
Bill Gates has gained the No 1 spot back from Warren Buffett, who held
it last year. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
After some of the most turbulent trading days experienced by Wall Street
in a generation, the latest list of America's top 400 richest people
produced by the business magazine Forbes looks like a window into a
The Microsoft chairman, Bill Gates, still tops the list with a net worth
of $57bn (£31.7bn). But how safe is the second-place position of the
famous investor Warren Buffett - his $50bn fortune has dropped $12bn in
six months - since the list was compiled at close of play on August 29?
Since then the Dow Jones has dropped more than 800 points in just four
days, Lehman Brothers became the world's largest ever bankrupt, Merrill
Lynch was forced into a shotgun wedding with Bank of America, AIG was
bailed out by the US government and Morgan Stanley is on the brink of
AIG's woes earlier in the year had already pushed one of the insurance
group's major shareholders, Eli Broad, down to No 48 on the list with an
estimated wealth of $6.7bn. A well-known philanthropist, he sold his
SunAmerica business to AIG and the proceeds have helped not only his
adoptive city of Los Angeles but the nation's art dealers. He owns the
world's largest collection of works by Jeff Koons and once bought a
painting by Roy Lichtenstein for $2.5bn using a credit card. The
government bailout of AIG, however, will have significantly hit his
wallet since the Forbes 400 list was compiled.
It is unlikely that art will retain its value in the current slump,
despite the record-breaking Damien Hirst sale earlier this week. This
will come as a shock to Donald and Doris Fisher, the founders of the Gap
clothing chain who returned to the list in joint 377th place - on $1.3bn
- thanks to their $1bn art collection which includes pieces by Chuck
Close, Richard Serra and Alexander Calder.
The couple share their spot with the former Citigroup boss Sandy Weill,
who can also expect the recent turmoil to have hit the value of the
shares in the bank he still owns - he had already lost $500m over the
year to the end of August. The position of fellow Citigroup shareholder
Gerald Ford - who sold Golden State Bankcorp in 2002 for $6bn to the
bank, and is listed at No 355 with $1.4bn - also looks rocky.
Back among the big hitters, Wall Street's crash and the demise of Lehman
Brothers will have hit the $15bn fortune of 15th-placed Abigail Johnson.
Her family runs Fidelity Investments, which is understood to have funds
with some of the highest exposure to both the collapsed investment bank
and AIG. Her father Edward is placed at No 28 with $11bn and is
level-pegging with George Soros.
Soros ranks highest among those in the Fortune 400 whose wealth comes
from hedge funds and private equity and it is unlikely that all the
other 23 in the list who have made their money the same way will be
there in a year's time.
The Bridgewater Associates boss, Ray Dalio, is ranked at No 78 with a
fortune estimated at $4.5bn, while the Och-Ziff hedge fund co-founder
Daniel Och is at No 95 on $3.9bn. Also at No 78 is John Paulson, who has
made millions for his funds over the past year by betting against
sub-prime assets. The firm's Credit Opportunities fund was up 590% net
of fees last year.
As well as wiping out billions in paper fortunes as share prices
collapse, and perhaps raising billions more for shrewd investors, the
impact of the turmoil in the banking sector is likely to hit other
Particularly vulnerable is Michael Bloomberg, who sits in eighth
position with a $20bn fortune. The collapses and mergers in the
financial industry are likely to significantly reduce demand for the
news and trading terminals that bear his name.
Elsewhere, Google's Sergey Brin and Larry Page come in at 13 and 14 with
$15.9bn and $15.8bn respectively. Lawrence 'Larry' Ellison, the boss of
the software company Oracle, comes in third at $27bn, while spaces four,
five and six are taken up with the Wal-Mart dynasty who together control
more than 39% of the grocery chain, which owns Asda in the UK. Jim
Walton, the son of the supermarket giant's pioneer Sam Walton, comes in
fourth at $23.4bn; his elder brother and the company's chairman, Robson
Walton is in fifth on $23.3bn, and their sister Alice is joint sixth
with $23.2bn with the widow of her other brother John, Christy Walton,
and her family.
Finally, the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg can afford a wry smile. He
is the youngest member of the Forbes 400 thanks to the $15bn valuation
placed on the social networking site when Microsoft took its 1.6% stake
last year. His $1.5bn fortune puts him at number 321. At the time he was
being pushed to float the business, which he set up four years ago. If
he had, it would now be buffeted by the current market turmoil and it is
unlikely he would have the minimum $1.3bn fortune needed for inclusion.
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