By Lehlohonolo Lehana.
Hurun Report has published its annual rich list, ranking over 3,200 billionaires from 68 countries – including South Africa.
Despite the disruption caused by Covid-19, the past year has seen the biggest increase in wealth of the last decade, the group noted, featuring a stock markets boom – driven partly by quantitative easing – and flurry of new listings on stock exchanged.
This minted eight new dollar billionaires a week for the past year, it said.
"The world has never seen this much wealth created in just one year, much more than perhaps could have been expected for a year so badly disrupted by Covid-19," it said.
The speed of wealth creation is nothing short of staggering. Three individuals added more than $50 billion in a single year, led by Elon Musk with $151 billion, on the back of the rise of e-cars, whilst e-commerce billionaires Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Colin Huang of Pinduoduo added $50 billion each.
"At this rate, expect to see fifty or more break through the $100 billion mark within the next five years," the group said.
China has added more new faces than the rest of the world combined, and now has more known billionaires than the next three countries combined.
Despite the Trade War with the US, China added 259 new billionaires, to become the first country in the world to top 1,000 ‘known’ dollar billionaires with 1,058, more than the combined total of the next three countries of the US, India and Germany.
In the last five years, China has added 490 billionaires, compared with 160 in the US. China’s billionaires are also worth more than US billionaires, holding a combined wealth of $4.5 trillion, compared to the US with $4.4 trillion.
The average US billionaire has a higher net worth, however, at $6.3 billion, versus $4.3 billion for China.
Combined global billionaire wealth now stands at $14.7 trillion.
In 2020, billionaires added the equivalent of the GDP of Germany to the pot ($3.5 trillion), taking their wealth to the equivalent of China’s GDP.
"The cut-off to make the Top 10 ten years ago was $25 billion, today it is $80 billion. To make the Top 100 or Top 1000 has also more than doubled," Hurun Report said.
South Africa’s billionaires were not as fortunate as the global elites, with all but one dropping down the rankings. However, total wealth held by local billionaires was still up by 5.4% (11.5% when comparing like-for-like, excluding the drop-offs).
Total wealth held by the country’s five known billionaires is $21.4 billion, up from $20.3 billion held by six billionaires in 2020.
Diamond magnate Nicky Oppenheimer, who still ranks as the richest man in the country, fell from 259th in 2020 to 346th in 2021 – despite his net worth increasing 2.6%.
Johann Rupert saw a similar drop down the rankings despite his wealth increasing 10.3%.
Christo Wiese, who was listed in 2020 as having a net worth of $1.1 billion, was not ranked among the billionaires this year. Wiese lost a fortune in the Steinhoff scandal, where 90% of the group’s value was wiped amid accounting irregularities. Wiese is now estimated to have a net worth closer to $255 million, according to Bloomberg calculations.
The only other significant change in the local rankings is African Rainbow founder Patrice Motsepe overtaking Koos Bekker as the country’s third richest man, with a net worth of $3 billion, according to Hurun.
Motsepe is also the only local billionaire to climb the rankings.
Globally, five people now have a net worth exceeding $100 billion.
Elon Musk has become the world’s richest person, adding $151 billion over the last year, which works out at just under a billion dollars every two days, to take him to $197 billion.
The bulk of his wealth is from his 21% share of Tesla, which is worth just under $800 billion. SpaceX, in which Musk has a 52% share, added $13 billion in value in the past year, after becoming the first private company to put people into orbit, an achievement previously claimed by just three global superpowers.
Jeff Bezos is second with $189 billion, up from $49 billion. Bezos and Musk now make up the 'Big Two' globally, alternating for the title of the richest person, and competing in the field of space exploration.
Luxury King’ Bernard Arnault of LVMH dropped down to one place to third with $114 billion. At the outset of the outbreak, Arnault was down $25 billion but has since bounced back to end the year with 7% more than last year.
Bill Gates, 65, was fourth with $110 billion, up 4%. Gates made the headlines in March last year after resigning as a director of Microsoft, to focus on philanthropic pursuits. Gates has become the largest farmland owner in the US with holdings of 242,000 acres of land. The Gates Foundation donated $250 million towards Covid relief.
Mark Zuckerberg, 36, who became a billionaire at the age of 23, broke through the $100 billion mark for the first time to keep a top 5 place with his wealth up 20%. Facebook today has 2.8 billion registered users, up 12%, despite facing growing anti-trust headwinds from the US government.