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The rich got richer again, according to billionaire index

NEW YORK—The richest people on the planet got even richer in 2012, adding $ 241 billion (U.S.) to their collective net worth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world’s 100 wealthiest individuals.

The aggregate net worth of the world’s top moguls stood at $ 1.9 trillion at the market close on Dec. 31, according to the index. Retail and telecommunications fortunes surged about 20 per cent on average during the year. Of the 100 people who appeared on the final ranking of 2012, only 16 registered a net loss for the 12-month period.

“Last year was a great one for the world’s billionaires,” said John Catsimatidis, the billionaire owner of Red Apple Group, in an e-mail written poolside on his BlackBerry in the Bahamas. “In 2013, they will continue looking for investments around the world — and not necessarily in U.S. — that will give them an advantage.”

Amancio Ortega, the Spaniard who founded retailer Inditex SA, was the year’s biggest gainer. The 76-year-old tycoon’s fortune increased $ 22.2 billion to $ 57.5 billion, according to the index, as shares of Inditex, operator of the Zara clothing chain, rose 66.7 per cent.

Carlos Slim, the telecommunications magnate who controls Mexico’s America Movil SAB, maintained his title as the richest person on Earth for the entire year. The 72-year-old’s net worth rose $ 13.4 billion — or 21.6 per cent — through Dec. 31, making him the second-biggest gainer by dollars.

Gains by Slim’s industrial conglomerate, Grupo Carso, and Grupo Financiero Inbursa, his banking and insurance operation, more than offset the decline posted by America Movil, his biggest holding.

U.S. software mogul Bill Gates, 57, ranks second on the list, trailing Slim by $ 12.5 billion. The Microsoft co-founder added $ 7 billion to his net worth as shares of the Redmond, Wash.-based company rose 2.9 per cent. Microsoft stock accounts for less than 20 per cent of the billionaire’s fortune.

Warren Buffett, 82, lost his title as the world’s third-richest man to Ortega on Aug. 6. The Berkshire Hathaway chairman gained $ 5.1 billion during the year, even after donating 22.3 million Berkshire Class B shares in July to charity. The billionaire, who has pledged to give away most of his fortune, spent much of the year pressing for higher U.S. taxes on the wealthy.

“On incomes of over $ 1 million, the excess $ 1 million should have a minimum tax of 30 per cent. And then over $ 10 million, 35 per cent,” Buffett said in an interview with Charlie Rose in November. “Tax law should be progressive. And I think that when people make $ 15 million or $ 20 million or $ 200 million and pay a 10 percent rate, something should be done about it.”

Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad, 86, is the world’s fifth-richest person with a $ 42.9 billion fortune. The complex ownership structure behind Ikea, the world’s largest furniture retailer, became more transparent in August after Ikea’s franchisor published its financial performance publicly for the first time. His net worth rose 16.6 per cent in 2012.

Brazil’s Eike Batista, 56, was the year’s biggest loser by dollars, falling $ 10.1 billion. The commodities maven, who vowed a year ago that he’d become the world’s wealthiest man by 2015, sold a 5.63 per cent stake in his EBX Group in March to Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Development.

As part of the deal, he pledged an unspecified additional stake in 2019 if he fails to meet a 5 per cent annual return on the sovereign wealth fund’s $ 2 billion investment, according to a person with knowledge of the deal. Batista now ranks 75th in the world with a $ 12.4 billion net worth. On March 27, he was worth $ 34.5 billion and ranked 8th on the Bloomberg index.

Oracle founder Larry Ellison rose $ 6.4 billion in 2012 as shares of the world’s largest database company jumped 31.7 per cent. Ellison, 68, who has more than tripled the amount of Oracle stock he has pledged against lines of credit in the last year, agreed to buy 98 per cent of Hawaii’s Lanai island. The 365-square-kilometre parcel with no traffic lights was purchased from billionaire David Murdock, 89, chairman of Dole Food, the world’s largest producer of fresh fruit and vegetables.

The bulk of Ellison’s fortune comes from his 23.5 per cent stake in Oracle. He also has interests in software makers NetSuite and LeapFrog Enterprises, as well as property holdings, including estates in California and Newport, R.I.

David Thomson is the only Canadian on the Index; he currently ranks 23rd, with an estimated net worth of $ 23 billion.

Retail fortunes rose 19.5 per cent on average, while non- retail fortunes increased 11.5 per cent. Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, 48, added $ 6.9 billion to his net worth as shares of the world’s largest online retailer rose 45 per cent. The four heirs to the Wal-Mart Stores fortune — Jim Walton, Christy Walton, Alice Walton and Rob Walton — gained a combined $ 13.5 billion. Stefan Persson, chairman of Swedish clothing retailer Hennes & Mauritz, added $ 2.7 billion.

Lui Che Woo, founder of Galaxy Entertainment Group, was the biggest winner on the index by percentage gain. His fortune more than doubled to $ 11.9 billion. The company plans to invest as much as $ 6.5 billion to expand a Macau resort as the casino operator seeks to draw more Chinese tourists in the world’s largest gambling hub.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg lost $ 5.2 billion during the year after the company’s shares fell 30 per cent following its May initial public offering. Investors sued Facebook, the operator of the world’s largest social network, after its stock dropped in the wake of what was the largest technology IPO in history. The investors claim the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company failed to disclose discussions it had with underwriters’ analysts about advertising revenue.

In December, the 28-year-old donated almost $ 500 million in Facebook stock to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The gift to the nonprofit group, which had $ 2 billion in assets in 2011, is to “lay a foundation for new projects,” Zuckerberg said in a statement posted on his Facebook page.

He and his wife, Priscilla, signed a pledge two years ago committing the majority of their wealth to charity. He is worth $ 12.3 billion.

The Bloomberg Billionaires Index takes measure of the world’s wealthiest people based on market and economic changes and Bloomberg News reporting. Each net worth figure is updated every business day at 5:30 p.m. in New York. The valuations are listed in U.S. dollars. – Business

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