Mexican telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim was the biggest decliner on the index at the close of trading in New York on December 28, as his America Movil SAB dropped 25% in 2015. The world’s richest person in May 2013, Slim fell to No. 5 this year after losing almost $20 billion as regulators ratcheted up efforts to break apart the business that controls the majority of Mexico’s landlines and mobile phones.
US investor Warren Buffett, the world’s third-richest person, lost $11.3 billion as Berkshire Hathaway Inc. had its first negative annual return since 2011. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, the world’s richest person since May 2013, fell by $3 billion during the year.
Gates’s losses and the continued rise of Inditex SA, the world’s largest fashion retailer, lifted Spain’s Amancio Ortega within about $10 billion of the top slot. Ortega, Europe’s richest person since June 2012, leapfrogged Slim and Buffett as he rose $12.1 billion to $73.2 billion.
His 20 percent rise was still $19 billion short of the increase for the year’s top-gainer, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. The New Mexico-born billionaire more than doubled his fortune to $59 billion as investors cheered profits at the world’s largest online retailer. Bezos added $31 billion in 2015, undoing the $7.4 billion decline he had in 2014 and propelling him up 16 positions to No. 4 on the index.
The shifts at the top came as global stock markets swung from earlyyear increases to sharp declines in the later months, with the MSCI ACWI Index falling 3.8% by the end of trading on December 28.
The world’s 400 richest people control a combined $3.9 trillion, according to the index, more than the GDP of every country on Earth except for the US, China and Japan. At their peak on May 18, the billionaires had almost $4.3 trillion, a $267 billion increase from January 1. In August they lost those gains and more when a global sell off claimed as much as $182 billion in a week.
Bezos and Ortega dominated the upside of the year’s gyrations, adding $43 billion between them. The performance of the two billionaires contrasted with the family that owns about half of Wal-Mart Stores, the world’s largest retailer. The five members of the Walton family lost a combined $35 billion in 2015.
The market declines knocked 49 billionaires off the daily ranking this year, including Glencore chief executive Ivan Glasenberg and Wang Jing, a Chinese telecom entrepreneur who personally invested $500 million to help Nicaragua build an alternative to the Panama Canal.Glasenberg lost two-thirds of his fortune as he raced to slash debt at the Swiss commodities company and Wang fell by about 86% this year.
China’s billionaires had the wildest ride in 2015. On January 1, there were 23 Chinese billionaires on the index with a combined net worth of $205 billion. At their May 27 peak there were 31 with a combined $348 billion. On Dec. 28 there were 28 billionaires with $256 billion.
As markets there surged, China became a veritable billionaire factory , with more than 50 new billionaires minted in the first half of the year.By July , the bubble had burst.