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During pandemic, billionaires club increases by 30% to 2,755 people

by The Washington Post | April 7, 2021 at 2:29 a.m.

The number of newly minted and reissued billionaires soared last year, Forbes reported Tuesday in its annual ranking, an accumulation of personal wealth that stands in sharp contrast with the widespread economic struggles unleashed by the pandemic.

The number of billionaires on Forbes' 35th annual ranking swelled by 660, to 2,755 -- a roughly 30% jump from a year ago -- and 493 of them are first timers. Seven out of eight of them are richer than they were before the pandemic. Forbes calculated net worth by using stock prices and exchange rates from March 5.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, with an estimated fortune of $177 billion, topped the list for the fourth year running. Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk came in at No. 2 at $151 billion. The shares of both companies soared last year, largely contributing to both men's net worths and causing them to toggle for the richest man title on various lists.

Bezos, who will step down as Amazon CEO and become executive chairman this year, also owns The Washington Post and Blue Origin, an aerospace company that is developing rockets for commercial use.

A representative for Amazon declined to comment. Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Dan Romanoff, a Morningstar equity research analyst who covers Amazon, said the company seized 42% of the e-commerce as the pandemic fueled a surge in online shopping.

"Amazon had a phenomenal year, from a financial perspective," he said. "They are pretty much the only game in town."

Rounding out the top five are Bernard Arnault ($150 billion), who oversees who oversees LVMH, an empire of 70 beauty and luxury fashion brands including Louis Vuitton and Sephora; Bill Gates ($124 billion), the Microsoft founder and co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's largest private charitable foundation; and Mark Zuckerberg ($97 billion), the CEO and co-founder of Facebook.

Eleven percent, or 316, of the billionaires on the Forbes list are women. The richest is Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, the French granddaughter of the founder of L'Oreal, the cosmetics and personal care giant, who has a net worth of $73.6 billion. Alice Walton, the daughter of Walmart founder Samuel Walton, is second at $61.8 billion. Mackenzie Scott, an author and the ex-wife of Bezos, is third, at $53 billion.

As a class, billionaires added about $8 trillion to their total net worth from last year, totaling $13.1 trillion.

"In the United States, the top 400 wealthiest Americans now own the equivalent 18% of GDP in wealth, twice as much as in 2010 [9% of gross domestic product], said Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley. "The pandemic has reinforced this trend, with a boom in top-end wealth despite the decline in economic activity."


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