The Exchange

Who Will Be the World’s First Trillionaire?

The Exchange
File photo shows Microsoft Chairman Gates attending the Microsoft Shareholders meeting in Bellevue, Washington
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Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates attends the Microsoft Shareholders meeting at Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, Washington in this November 15, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Anthony Bolante/Files

One trillion dollars.

That's a "1" followed by 12 zeroes. It sounds like a goal that Austin Powers’ arch nemesis Dr. Evil would shoot for but, according to Swiss financial services firm Credit Suisse, it could eventually become a reality for a select few worldwide. Not anyone you or I know, of course, but we’re on track to see our first trillionaire sometime in the next century.

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“Two generations ahead, future extrapolation of current wealth growth rates yields almost a billion millionaires, equivalent to 20% of the total adult population,” the bank wrote in its annual Global Wealth Report, published Wednesday. “If this scenario unfolds, then billionaires will be commonplace, and there is likely to be a few trillionaires too – eleven according to our best estimate.”

Sure, two generations is a pretty long time – about 60 years, according to most sociologists – but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the world’s first trillionaire has already been born and is already hard at work accumulating their fortune.

Let’s consider some of the likely candidates.

- Bill Gates: The Microsoft (MSFT) founder recently reclaimed his spot as the world’s richest person with a net worth of about $72 billion. He’s a long shot to get to a trillion, though, due to his age – he’s currently 57 – and the fact that a large portion of his wealth is tied up in Microsoft’s stock, which hasn’t been performing too well in recent years. He’s also extremely charitable, and has stated that his goal is to give away the bulk of his fortune by the time he dies. That won’t help Gates if he wants to become the world’s first trillionaire.

- Carlos Slim: Mexican telecom mogul Carlos Slim lost the title of “world’s richest” in September 2013 when the value of his stock portfolio fell by a fraction of a percent, leaving him with a mere $69 billion in net worth. Still, he does make a fair case to be the world’s first trillionaire – his assets are spread across a number of industries, including construction and manufacturing, and he remains one of the primary players in the Mexican economy. But he is 73 years old and would need to boost his fortune more than 14 times over in his remaining years to reach the trillion-dollar mark.

- Warren Buffett: Legendary investor Warren Buffett’s $58.5 billion fortune may make him the second-richest person in the U.S., but he has a long way to go to becoming a trillionaire. Like Slim, his holdings are very diverse so he’s generally protected from wild swings in market value at any one company, but at 83, Buffett will likely not live to see anyone reach the $1 trillion threshold. And his portfolio would have to go up by some 1,700% for Buffett to get there personally.

- Larry Ellison: The billionaire founder of Oracle (ORCL) likes to throw his $43 billion fortune around, recently hosting the America’s Cup sailing competition in his home city of San Francisco, but the bulk of his wealth is tied up in Oracle stock. He owns about one-quarter of the company, which means his own fortunes will rise and fall alongside the notoriously fickle technology sector.

- Jeff Bezos: OK, let’s get real here. At just 49 years old, Amazon.com (AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos has time on his side if he hopes to reach $1 trillion, and he’s well-positioned in a growth industry. But with a current net worth of around $25 billion, will the value of Amazon’s stock really increase 40-fold over the next few decades to get him there? It's a long shot.

- His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge: He certainly has the age advantage, having been born just this past July, but the son of the UK’s Prince William and Princess Kate (also known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) likely won’t be appearing on any trillionaire lists in his lifetime. That’s because the bulk of the royal family’s wealth is tied up in land holdings and the crown jewels, which technically belong to Britain, not the family. Even Queen Elizabeth II, the richest of the bunch, can only claim $515 million or so in personal holdings.

- The House of Saud: Saudi Arabia’s royal family is a different story and, in fact, the 2,000 or so members of the core group already control a fortune estimated at over $1.4 trillion, based on their land holdings (the entire country technically belongs to them) and multi-generational oil wealth. Still, it takes one person, not 2,000, to make a trillionaire, and the price of oil needs to keep rising if any members of the family want to stay in the hunt.

- Elon Musk: The PayPal/SpaceX/Tesla founder is our front-runner here at Yahoo Finance due to his amazingly diverse holdings and the fact that, at just 42 years of age, he has plenty of time to create even more wealth. Sure, Musk is only worth about $6 billion as of 2013, but if even one of his world-changing ideas takes off in a major way – electric cars, commercial space travel, ultra-high speed rail – that number will likely increase exponentially.

What do you think? Who did we leave off this list of potential trillionaires? Make your case in the comments below.

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