It may not exactly be a riches to rags story but Forbes magazine is reporting a fall from grace for many of the world’s wealthiest people.
Its annual rich list, just published, includes the usual suspects like Bill Gates, who has regained his position at the top of the pile. But it also reveals that billionaires across the world have lost much of their fortunes in the recession. Among the big losers is Warren Buffet, last year’s number one. He shed 19 billion euros and his investment company Berkshire Hathaway saw its heaviest losses in its 44-year history. In all sectors the spectacularly wealthy were left reeling by market losses, including Carlos Slim, the Mexican telecoms magnate. This year the league table was topped by those who lost least. Bill Gates only dropped 14 billion euros. But yet again it was led by Americans. The financial crisis has taken a heavy toll on the new elite in Russia and Asia, particularly those who made their fortunes quickly and in risky areas. Last year there were 87 billionaires in Russia, second only to the US. In 2009 it has fallen by two thirds, with 55 dropping of the Forbes list. Forbes Senior Editor Luisa Kroll said: “That is just the story of a country that really was on a tear and a lot of their young, swashbuckling billionaires, they were all self-made, a lot of them were younger than the average billionaire. They took a lot of risks, they took on a lot of debt. It’s also a commodities-rich area, and they’ve been hammered by the drop in commodity prices from oil to metals.” At a time of increasing poverty across the world it is hard to imagine ordinary people worrying too much about those who have lost fortunes but remain fabulously well-off. But Steve Forbes, the publisher of the magazine, says it is a worrying indication of how deep this recession is.