Top billionaires $1.4 trillion poorer

Top billionaires $1.4 trillion poorer

Stock market rout leads to big paper losses, but some see new opportunities

Tesla founder and aspiring social media tycoon Elon Musk has seen his net worth shrink by 23% to $208.5 billion this year. (Reuters illustration)
Tesla founder and aspiring social media tycoon Elon Musk has seen his net worth shrink by 23% to $208.5 billion this year. (Reuters illustration)

Elon Musk’s fortune plunged almost US$62 billion. Jeff Bezos saw his wealth tumble by about $63 billion. Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth was slashed by more than half.

All told, the world’s 500 richest people lost $1.4 trillion in the first half of 2022, a dizzying decline that marks the steepest six-month drop ever for the global billionaire class.

It’s a sharp departure from the previous two years, when the fortunes of the ultra-rich swelled as governments and central banks unleashed unprecedented stimulus measures in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, juicing the value of everything from technology companies to cryptocurrencies.

With policy makers now raising interest rates to combat elevated inflation, some of the highest-flying shares — and the billionaires who own them — are losing altitude fast. The electric vehicle maker Tesla had its worst quarter ever in the three months through June, while Amazon.com plummeted by the most since the dot-com bubble burst two decades ago.

Though the losses are piling up for the world’s richest people, it only represents a modest move toward narrowing wealth inequality. Musk, Tesla’s co-founder, still has the biggest fortune on the planet, at $208.5 billion, while Amazon founder Bezos is second with a net worth of $129.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The Bloomberg index includes two Thais: food & beverage and property tycoon Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi ranks 120th with a fortune of $13.8 billion, and Gulf Energy chief Sarath Ratanavadi ($11.5 billion) is 163rd.

Bernard Arnault, France’s richest person, ranks third with a fortune of $128.7 billion, followed by Bill Gates with $114.8 billion, according to the Bloomberg index. They are the only four that are worth more than $100 billion — at the start of the year, 10 people worldwide exceeded that amount, including Zuckerberg, who is now 17th on the list with $60 billion.

Changpeng Zhao, the crypto pioneer who debuted on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index in January with an estimated fortune of $96 billion, has seen his wealth tumble by almost $80 billion this year amid the turmoil in digital assets.

Still, the billionaire class has amassed so much wealth in recent years that not only can the vast majority withstand the worst first half since 1970 for the S&P 500 stock index, but they’re likely looking for bargains, said Thorne Perkin, the president of Papamarkou Wellner Asset Management.

“Often their mindset is a bit more contrarian,” Perkin said. “A lot of our clients look for opportunities when there’s trouble in the streets.”

That held true in the first half of the year in some of the most distressed corners of the global financial markets.

Vladimir Potanin, Russia’s wealthiest man with a $35.2 billion fortune, acquired Societe Generale’s entire position in Rosbank earlier this year amid the fallout from Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. He also bought out the sanctioned Russian mogul Oleg Tinkov’s stake in a digital bank for a fraction of what it was once worth. 

Sam Bankman-Fried, chief executive officer of the crypto exchange FTX, bought a 7.6% stake in Robinhood Markets in early May after the app-based brokerage’s share price tumbled 77% from its hotly anticipated initial public offering last July. The 30-year-old billionaire has also been acting as a lender of last resort for some troubled crypto companies.

The most high-profile buyout of all belonged to Musk, who reached a $44-billion deal to buy Twitter. He offered to pay $54.20 a share; the social-media company’s stock was trading at $37.44 on Friday in New York.

The world’s richest man said in an interview with Bloomberg News Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait last month that there are “a few unresolved matters” before the transaction can be completed.

“There’s a limit to what I can say publicly,” he said. “It is somewhat of a sensitive matter.”


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