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Before Wednesday's stock market surge, the richest people on Earth had lost about $511 billion this year after record first-half gains were obliterated by a succession of bruising market sell-offs.

Global trade tensions and worries about a U.S. recession dragged markets lower at year-end, leaving the 500 people on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index with a combined net worth of $4.7 trillion as of Friday's close. It's only the second annual decline for the daily wealth index since its 2012 debut, and represents a sharp about-turn from the start of the year, when bullish investors helped propel the fortunes of the richest to a record $5.6 trillion.

"As of late, investor anxiety has run high," said Katie Nixon, chief investment officer at Northern Trust Wealth Management. "We do not expect a recession, but we are mindful of the downside risks to global growth."

Even Jeff Bezos, who recorded the biggest gain for 2018, wasn't spared the volatility. The Amazon.com founder's fortune peaked at $168 billion in September, a $69 billion gain. It later tumbled $53 billion -- more than the market value of Delta or Ford -- to leave him with $115 billion at year-end.

Bezos had a better year than Mark Zuckerberg, who recorded the biggest loss since January, dropping $23 billion as Facebook Inc. careened from crisis to crisis. Overall, the 173 U.S. billionaires on the list -- the largest group -- lost 5.9 percent from their fortunes to leave them with $1.9 trillion.

Even Asia's fabled wealth-creation machine stumbled as the region's 128 billionaires lost a combined $144 billion in 2018. The three biggest losers in Asia all hailed from China, led by Wanda Group's Wang Jianlin, whose fortune declined $11.1 billion.

The Middle East had an even more turbulent year. While many of the billionaires ensnared in Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's corruption crackdown were released, doubt and fear about the powerful royal's methods sent a chill through the Saudi economy.

The kingdom's richest person, Prince Alwaleed, who was released in March after 83 days in detention, lost $3.4 billion. His net worth has fallen by 60 percent since its peak in 2014. One of the remaining Saudi captives, Mohammed Al Amoudi, managed to become richer during his year in detention, as the value of his Swedish energy and property assets rose.

Mexico's Carlos Slim, the majority shareholder of Latin America's largest mobile-phone operator, also suffered big losses. Once the world's richest person, Slim now ranks sixth with a $54 billion pile. 3G Capital co-founder Jorge Paulo Lemann saw his fortune drop the most among Latin American billionaires, losing $9.8 billion. But even with that fall, he remains Brazil's richest person.

Sixteen of the 25 Russian billionaires on the Bloomberg index saw their net worth fall in 2018. Aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, who remains under U.S. sanctions, lost the most -- $5.7 billion -- and dropped out the Bloomberg ranking of the world's top 500 richest people.

The number of women on the list inched up by one to 66 as Denise Coates, the British founder and chief executive officer of online bookmaker Bet365 Group Ltd., joined the ranking for the first time. She pocketed $282 million in remuneration last year, one of the highest disclosed pay packages anywhere, after the company reported record results.

Information for this article was contributed by Tom Metcalf, Sophie Alexander, Jack Witzig, Ben Stupples, Alex Sazonov, Yoojung Lee, Blake Schmidt, Venus Feng, Devon Pendleton, Reade Pickert, Andrew Heathcote and Pei Yi Mak of Bloomberg News.

Business on 12/27/2018

Print Headline: Market sell-offs hit world's richest

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