REUTERS - Bill Gates has returned to the top of Forbes magazine's annual list of the world's richest people, as rising stock markets swelled the ranks of billionaires, which included a record number of women.
With a net worth of $76 billion, the Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) co-founder reclaimed the top spot after a four-year hiatus, toppling Mexico's telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim Helu, who placed second at $72 billion, Forbes said in announcing the list on Monday.
Amancio Ortega, the Spanish founder of clothing conglomerate Inditex SA (ITX.MC), which includes the Zara fashion chain, ranked third at $64 billion.
Investing icon Warren Buffett, who runs Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N) and is a frequent bridge partner for Gates, was fourth at $58.2 billion. Oracle Corp (ORCL.N) chief Larry Ellison came in fifth at $48 billion.
Gates has topped the list in 15 of the last 20 years.
A record 1,645 billionaires with a total net worth of $6.4 trillion made Forbes' list, up from 1,426 last year.
Just over 10 percent were female, with 172 women compared with 138 a year earlier.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) heiress Christy Walton was the highest-ranking woman, in ninth place, at $36.7 billion. France's Liliane Bettencourt, who got much of her wealth from cosmetics company L'Oreal SA (OREP.PA), was next among women at $34.5 billion, and ranked 11th overall.
The Internet was well-represented. Google Inc (GOOG.O) founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin ranked 17th and 19th, worth a respective $32.3 billion and $31.8 billion, while Amazon.com Inc's (AMZN.O) Jeff Bezos was between them at $32 billion.
Facebook Inc (FB.O) founder Mark Zuckerberg, 29, more than doubled his net worth to $28.5 billion, and ranked 21st.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who left office two months ago, was 16th at $33 billion, built mainly through his eponymous media company.
Forbes said the year's biggest loser was Brazilian tycoon Eike Batista, whose net worth fell below $300 million from $10.6 billion as his oil and natural resources empire collapsed amid too much debt and falling output.
Roughly two-thirds of the world's billionaires, or 1,080, were self-made. The United States had the most billionaires, with 492, followed by China at 152 and Russia at 111. Algeria, Lithuania, Tanzania and Uganda joined the list with one each.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Jan Paschal)
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