NEW YORK (Reuters) - Rising global commodities prices and Asia’s economic boom led to a big increase in the number of billionaires in Russia, China and Brazil in 2011.
China nearly doubled its number of billionaires to 115, while Russia and Brazil posted two-third jumps to 101 and 30, respectively, Forbes said in its annual list of the world’s richest people.
It was the first time any country outside the United States, which has 413 billionaires, had more than 100. Moscow is now home to the most people on the list with 79 billionaires, easily outstripping New York, which has just 58.
The world’s richest man, Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, retained his crown for the second year in a row and made more money than any of the other 1,209 billionaires in the past year: $20.5 billion, taking his fortune to $74 billion.
Russia’s billionaire growth was attributed to a commodities boom. Brazil also benefited from higher commodity prices, as well as stricter disclosure rules and a stronger currency. In China and India, which has 55 billionaires after adding six, strong economies helped create wealth from a range of sectors.
“The bottom line is BRICs, commodities and Asia Pacific,” Forbes Chief Executive Steve Forbes told a news conference on Wednesday. “There is a global commodities boom. But as we should have learned ... commodities can go up very sharply, they can go down very sharply.”
The Reuters Jefferies CRB commodities index rose 17 percent last year and is up another 8 percent this year as copper and gold hit record highs, grains are near their 2008 peaks and, most recently, oil surged beyond $100 a barrel.
Brazil, Russia, India and China produced half the world’s 214 new billionaires, double last year’s 97 newcomers.
Among the newbies in the Forbes list are four billionaires whose fortunes are tied to social networking site Facebook -- co-founders Dustin Moskovitz and Eduardo Saverin and investors Yuri Milner and Sean Parker. They join Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who soared to No. 52 from No. 212 and now has an estimated worth of $13.5 billion, and Facebook investor Peter Thiel, who was also previously on the list.
One of the biggest movers up the list was U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who posted the biggest increase in wealth behind Slim.
He is worth $23.3 billion, up from $14 billion, and soared to No. 16 from No. 73 last year in a remarkable turnaround for a businessman whose Las Vegas Sands Corp came close to defaulting on its debt in 2008.
While India’s number of billionaires did not increase much, their “average net worth ... is huge -- $4.5 billion for an Indian billionaire versus $2.5 billion for a Chinese billionaire,” said Forbes.
Russia is also trumping China with 15 billionaires in the top 100, compared to China’s one, while India has seven and Brazil three.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates held on to second place, growing his wealth to $56 billion from $53 billion last year, and investor Warren Buffett again came in third with $50 billion, up from $47 billion.
Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc has fared better than Gates’ Microsoft. Microsoft shares now trade about where they were a decade ago, while Berkshire shares have roughly doubled.
Forbes said that Gates would have still been the richest man in the world if he had not so far given $28 billion of his wealth to his foundation. He was only knocked off the top spot on the list twice between 1995 and 2010.
The wealth of the world’s billionaires jumped 25 percent to $4.5 trillion and their average net worth rose to $3.7 billion from $3.5 billion. There were 47 people who dropped off the list, 42 who returned and 10 people who died. The number of women grew to 102 from 89 last year.
While positions have shifted, the top 20 was largely unchanged. New this year were Adelson, Russian steel baron Vladimir Lisin and David and Charles Koch, brothers behind an energy and manufacturing empire. They recently hit the headlines for their controversial support of conservative U.S. causes.
The Asia Pacific’s growth in wealth has also fueled a luxury goods demand, helping grow the fortune of Europe’s richest man, LVMH Chief Executive Bernard Arnault, to $41 billion from $27.5 billion. He rose to No. 4 from No. 7.
“The global economy is recovering, but it is not all spread across the board,” said Forbes. “Yes, there are increases (the number of billionaires) in Europe, but primarily it is Russia. The United States barely registered an increase.”
“In terms of wealth, the dog that isn’t barking is Japan,” said Forbes, referencing a Sherlock Holmes novel. “(It has) a fairly small number of billionaires compared to the size of the economy.”
The number of U.S. billionaires rose to 413 from 403.
Facebook’s Moskovitz is also the youngest billionaire in the world at 26 and with a fortune of $2.7 billion, while the honor of being the oldest goes to Swiss tech billionaire Walter Haefner, who is 100 and worth $4 billion.
Canadian David Thomson, who controls Thomson Reuters, widened his lead over his financial news and data rival, New York City Mayor and Bloomberg owner Michael Bloomberg. Thomson rose three spots to No. 17 with $23 billion, while Bloomberg fell seven spots to No. 30 with a fortune of $18.1 billion.
Forbes ranked the billionaires’ fortunes at the close of global stock markets on Feb. 14, 2011. The full Forbes ranking of the world’s billionaires can be seen at www.forbes.com/billionaires
Editing by Mark Egan, Martin Howell and Gary Hill