Rich become richer

The world's richest people have become a whole lot richer in 2004, and more numerous.

    Harry Potter has made a $1 billion appear in JK Rowling's bank account

    Forbes magazine added 64 new members to its annual billionaire's list - headed once again by Bill Gates.

    Among the most prominent debutantes on the Forbes ranking was Harry Potter author JK Rowling, who just a few years ago was a penniless single mother struggling to make ends meet.

    After two years of declining fortunes caused by a weakened global economy, the total net worth of the world's billionaires soared by $500 billion, from $1.4 trillion last year to $1.9 – or $1,900,000,000.

    Microsoft co-founder Gates headed the list for the 10th year in a row, with an estimated net worth of $46.6 billion, up from $40.7 the previous year.

    But his position was looking more vulnerable than ever. Warren Buffet added $12.4 billion - the biggest gain of anyone on the list - to leave him just short of Gates with $42.9 billion.
     

    This year's total of 587 billionaires was a Forbes record, with 56 "comeback" billionaires joining the 64 new-comers and the others on last year's list.

    Some famous names

    Rowling, 38, ranked a joint 552nd on the list with a straight $1billion, alongside the creators of the Google search engine, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who have barely turned 30 and plan to take their company public this year.

    Other new boys on the billionaire block were Canadian impresario Guy Laliberte, creator of Cirque du Soleil, and Hong Kong's Michael Ying, whose Esprit apparel line looks set to conquer the globe.

    Bill Gates completes a decade on
    top, but not for much longer

    Back at the top of the rankings, German Karl Albrecht, the reclusive owner of the Aldi supermarket chain, took third spot with a fortune estimated at $23 billion, followed by Saudi Prince al-Walid Bin Talal Al Saud, with $21.5 billion.

    Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen closed out the top five, with $21 billion.

    Five members of the Walton family - heirs to the fortune of the Wal-Mart retail group - occupied the number six to 10 spots, each with $20 billion. So it could pay to be friends with either Alice, Helen, Jim, John or Robson Walton.

    Russia's oil tycoons

    Thanks to rising oil prices, Russia became home to eight new billionaires, bringing that country's total to 25 - the third-highest concentration of billionaires in the world behind the United States and Germany.

    Not all were able to spend it, however, with Russian oil barons Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev joining Japanese tycoon Yasuo Takei on the ignominious sub-list of billionaires in jail or police custody.

    But then Forbes CEO, Steve Forbes, did say not everyone on his list was a paragon of virtue.
     
    Nine Asians returned to the list, a testament to the improving world economy. The highest-ranking Asian was Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, who came in 19th with a net worth of $US12.4 billion.

    The average age on the billionaire honour roll was 64, with only 27 members of the 10-figure club coming in under the 40-year-old mark.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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