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The World’s Billionaires 2012

Luisa Kroll and Kerry A. Dolan

Record Numbers, Record Wealth: 128 new billionaires made their debut this year, while 117 dropped out of the ranks. The net result is a record 1,226 billionaires, including the creators of Spanx, Under Armour and 5-Hour Energy.

A quarter century ago Forbes published our first annual list of the World’s Billionaires—and we found 140. This year the list broke records for the most number of billionaires (1,226) and combined net worth, at $4.6 trillion, up from $4.5 trillion. Behind those numbers is a more complicated story of rapid change among the world’s wealthiest. Innovation, strong consumer brands and a rebounding U.S. stock market helped produce 128 newcomers and brought 17 former members back into the ranks, while falling stock markets, particularly in China and Russia, were the main culprit for knocking 117 billionaires off the list. Another 12 members from the 2011 list passed away, including buyout titan Teddy Forstmann and Apple’s Steve Jobs, whose wife Laurene Powell Jobs takes his spot. Overall, 460 billionaires got richer, 441 got poorer and another 180 held steady.

There are now billionaires from 58 countries. The U.S. is still home to more billionaires than any other country, with 425, a gain of 12. Mainland China and Russia were both clobbered. They have 95 and 96, respectively, down from 115 and 101 last year. The BRIC nations, which were such a force of wealth creation a year ago, have 26 fewer ten-figure fortunes, with only Brazil adding to its bounty.

[Also from Forbes.com: Full Gallery: The World’s Billionaires]

Carlos Slim Helú of Mexico tops the ranks for the third year in a row, but the gap between him and Bill Gates is tightening again. His fortune, at $69 billion, is down $5 billion from a year ago. He was one of 7 in the top 20 whose fortunes slipped, including Warren Buffett and Larry Ellison.

Meanwhile Gates, whose foundation helped wipe out polio in India, was $5 billion richer at $61 billion as Microsoft shares hit a ten-year high. Amancio Ortega, the man behind fast fashion chain Zara, moved into the top 5 for the first time, despite having stepped down as chairman the previous year. India’s Lakshmi Mittal, who runs the world’s largest steel company, ArcelorMittal, was the year’s biggest loser. His fortune plummeted by $10.4 billion, knocking him out of the top 10 for the first time since 2004. He is ranked No. 21. In a sign that great fortunes can come from almost anywhere, only 3 of the top 10 richest hail from the U.S., one fewer than last year.

There are lots of ingenious ways to make fortunes, not the least of which is using a popular brand to cater to a world full of consumers. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is worth $17.5 billion, up $4 billion from a year ago; he may be worth far more once Facebook goes public this spring. Notable newcomers with stellar brands include Kevin Plank, founder of trendy sportswear maker Under Armour, and Sara Blakely, with her Spanx line of newfangled girdles. Blakely, 41, is the world’s youngest self-made woman billionaire. Another notable woman in the ranks is Miuccia Prada, who returns to the list after a six-year absence. Two American immigrants to make their debut are the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Shahid Khan, who came from Pakistan when he was 16 and is the first minority immigrant owner of an NFL team, and 5-Hour Energy’s Manoj Bhargava, who emigrated as a boy from India.

A note on methodology: More than 50 reporters in 16 countries worked on compiling the list this year, valuing individuals' public holdings, private companies, real estate, yachts, art and cash. Net worths were locked in using stock prices and exchange rates from Feb. 14.

The World’s Top 10 Billionaires

1. Name: Carlos Slim Helú and family

Net Worth: $69 billion (DOWN)
Source: Telecom
Citizenship: Mexico

Carlos Slim Helú retains the title of world's richest man for the third year in a row despite a fortune that's $5 billion smaller than a year ago—primarily because of a lower share price for telecom giant America Movil, which accounts for more than half his net worth. In April the company was fined $1 billion by Mexican regulators for monopolistic practices but is appealing the decision. Slim is spending more time working with his Carlos Slim Foundation and the Telmex Foundation than he has in the past. His goal: philanthropic work that develops human capacity.

2. Name: Bill Gates

Net Worth: $61 billion (UP)
Source: Microsoft
Citizenship: USA

First part of mission accomplished: The most generous person on the planet (he’s given away $28 billion already) has helped eradicate polio in India. In January the country announced its first polio-free year. Gates will continue to chip in $200 million a year to rid the world of a disease that is still endemic in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. He also has a new endeavor in the works: fixing agriculture. His foundation has committed more than $2 billion to small farmers. Less than one-fourth of his net worth is still held in Microsoft, whose shares are trading higher than they’ve been in 10 years and helped boost his fortune, which is up $5 billion. The rest is in private equity, bonds and stocks such as Ecolab and Mexican broadcaster Televisa.

[Also from Forbes.com: The World’s Billionaire Women]

3. Name: Warren Buffett

Net Worth: $44 billion (DOWN)
Source: Berkshire Hathaway
Citizenship: USA

Who will replace the Oracle of Omaha at the helm of Berkshire Hathaway? Buffett announced in February he’d finally made the decision, but he wouldn’t give a name. In December he chose his farmer son, Howard, as the future nonexecutive chairman and “guardian of the firm’s values.” New Senate legislation requiring the rich to pay at least a 30% tax rate has been dubbed the “Buffett Rule” in homage to the billionaire’s frequent public statements that the wealthiest should pay more than the average Joe. His net worth is down $6 billion year on year because of a 7% slump in Berkshire’s stock. In his latest annual letter he confessed to some mistakes, including being “dead wrong” about a housing comeback. 

4. Name: Bernard Arnault

Net Worth: $41 billion (EQUAL)
Source: LVMH
Citizenship: France

The world’s ultimate arbiter of good taste and Europe’s richest person once again, Arnault orchestrated another stellar year at his luxury-goods empire, LVMH. Sales were up 16%, as Europe, Asia and the United States all did well. Louis Vuitton, in particular, thrived. Arnault called 2011 “another great vintage.” LVMH extended ties to two major brands: first, the Bulgari family transferred its majority stake in its eponymous brand to LVMH in exchange for shares and seats on LVMH's board; second, LVMH acquired a 20% stake in Hermes. The group also formed a JV with one of the world’s leading tanneries of crocodile leather, Heng Long.  Arnault hasn’t done as well with his more pedestrian investment in supermarket chain Carrefour, which is worth $1 billion less than it was a year ago. Among his personal high-end collection: He owns yacht builder Royal Van Lent, Indigo Island in the Bahamas (rent: $300,000 a week) and ski chalet Cheval Blanc in Courchevel.

5. Name: Amancio Ortega

Net Worth: $37.5 billion (UP)
Source: Zara
Citizenship: Spain

Ortega stepped down as chairman of his global fashion firm, Inditex, in July 2011, but the company hasn’t missed a beat. Shares are up one fourth in the past year, helping boost his fortune by $6.5 billion and pushing him into the global top 5 ranks for the first time. Ortega paid $536 million to billionaire Esther Koplowitz in December for Torre Picasso, a 43-story skyscraper in Madrid. He also owns Epic Residences & Hotel, a luxury 54-story waterfront condo and hotel development in Miami. Other personal holdings include a stake in a soccer league and a horse-jumping circuit. A railway worker's son, he started as a gofer in a shirt store. With then-wife Rosalia Mera, also a billionaire, he started making dressing gowns and lingerie in his living room. His daughter Marta, who works for Inditex, married Spanish equestrian star Sergio Alvarez Moya in February.

[Also from Forbes.com: The World’s Billionaire Newcomers]

6. Name: Larry Ellison

Net Worth: $36 billion (DOWN)
Source: Oracle
Citizenship: USA

Oracle’s stock has been oscillating for months. It’s rebounded since its August low but is still off 15% year on year due to a slowdown in the software and hardware giant’s sales, enough to knock $3.5 billion off Ellison’s fortune. Seeking to profit from cloud computing, Oracle acquired Taleo in February for $1.9 billion and RightNow in October for $1.5 billion. Ellison has been tagged as one of the clutch of billionaires interested in buying the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team. His big sport is yachting: he won the America's Cup in 2010 and is bringing the 34th edition of the America’s Cup Finals to the San Francisco Bay in 2013. This will be the first time the event has been held in the United States in 18 years.

7. Name: Eike Batista

Net Worth: $30 billion (EQUAL)
Source: Mining, oil
Citizenship: Brazil

Brazil’s richest man is riding high on oil fever. His oil and gas driller, OGX Petroleo e Gas, produced its first oil in a test well offshore in late January; his 61% stake in the company is worth $19.8 billion-two-thirds of his net worth. The bombastic entrepreneur is also betting on his former passion, gold: In February 2011 he spent $1.5 billion to take private Canadian-listed Ventana Gold, which owns what he says is an incredibly promising mine in Colombia.

8. Name: Stefan Persson

Net Worth: $26 billion (UP)
Source: H&M
Citizenship: Sweden

His cheap-chic apparel chain H&M added Versace and Marni to its stable of designers last year and opened its first stores in Croatia, Singapore and Romania. It now has 2,500 shops in 43 countries. Persson, who is chairman, bought 5 million additional shares of the company and then gifted 4 million, worth $150 million, to a new employee­incentive program.

9. Name: Li Ka-shing

Net Worth: $25.5 billion (DOWN)
Source: diversified
Citizenship: Hong Kong

Despite a small drop in fortune, Li Ka-shing moves back into the top 10 for the first time since 2007 and reclaims the title of Asia’s richest for the first time since 2004. One of the great empire builders, Li’s businesses employ 270,000 people around the world in 53 countries; he built one out of every 7 residences in Hong Kong, his Hutchison Port Holdings handles about 13% of the world’s container traffic, and his recently acquired Northumbrian Water supplies clean drinking water to 4.5 million people in England and sewerage services to another 2.7 million. Li also has personal investments in tech startups like Facebook and Spotify. Says the octogenarian: “A person investing in technology will feel younger.” One of Asia’s most generous, his foundation has donated more than $1.6 billion to date, largely to education and medical research. 

[Related: Cool homes of fashion leaders]

10. Name: Karl Albrecht

Net Worth: $25.4 billion (DOWN)
Source: Aldi
Citizenship: Germany

His $39 billion (estimated sales) discount supermarket giant, Aldi Sud, has some 4,500 stores, including 1,200 across 32 U.S. states. It opened its first New York City locations in 2011, one in Queens and another in the Bronx. To keep costs low, Aldi stores do not accept credit cards. He and his late brother Theo built their mother's corner grocery store into Aldi after World War II. They split ownership in 1961; Karl took the more profitable stores in southern Germany, plus the rights to the brand in the U.K., Australia and the U.S. Theo got northern Germany and the rest of Europe.

Click here to see the rest of the World’s Billionaires.

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