A Billion To One: What The Growing List Of The World's Rich Means To You

New York There are 104 more billionaires on the planet this year, according to Forbes magazine's annual list of the world's richest people. But don't feel too depressed if you are not one of the total 691 of them. This

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New York – There are 104 more billionaires on the planet this year, according to Forbes magazine’s annual list of the world’s richest people. But don’t feel too depressed if you are not one of the total 691 of them. This increase in the number of the rich and richer may signify good times ahead, according to Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of the publication.

“It’s springtime for the global economy,” he said at a press conference on Thursday at the magazine’s headquarters in New York. “This list shows that things are on the move again.”

Citing such factors as an increased total net worth of the billionaires-from $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion-and the emergence of first-time billionaires in the countries of Iceland, Kazakhstan, Poland, and Ukraine, Forbes offered up a prediction. “We’re just at the beginnings of a bull market,” he said.

With all this change, the magazine saw a shake-up in the list’s upper echelon: the world’s top ten billionaires. Bill Gates still occupies the top spot with $46.5 billion, but with Microsoft’s stagnant stock performance, investor Warren Buffett comes closest to date in second place with $44 billion. A decrease in Wal-Mart’s stock price helped roll back the number of the Waltons in the top ten from five in 2004 to just one this year. Company Chairman S. Robson Walton, oldest son of Sam, hangs on at number ten. Moving into the vacated spots: Lakshmi Mittal, who made his $25 billion in steel, Carlos Slim Helu, with a telecom fortune worth $23.8 billion, Ikea-founder Ingvar Kamprad, whose furnishings empire has earned him $23 billion, and Larry Ellison, who has net $18.4 billion as chief of Oracle. “There’s nothing permanent about wealth,” Forbes said. “If you don’t succeed for tomorrow, you’ll fall off this list.”

For newcomer Thor Bjorgolfsson, passing the billion dollar mark makes him Iceland’s first billionaire and fulfills his goal of redeeming the family name. In 1986, Bjorgolfsson’s father was involved an embezzlement scandal at Hafskip, Iceland’s second-largest shipping line. Fighting for his family’s reputation, Thor now has control of the nations largest bank, Landsbanki, is worth $1.4 billion and has appointed his father to chairman of the bank. “That kind of revenge is very sweet,” Forbes said.

Explaining the methodology, Associate Editor Luisa Kroll said the magazine had more than 30 reporters working on the list in seven countries for the past year. The rankings are a snapshot of wealth taken on February 11, 2005. This is the date stock prices and other fluctuating data are locked and calculations can be made.

Staff writer Lea Goldman touched on a few facets of the billionaire lifestyle, or what the staff at Forbes calls “conspicuous consumption.” Steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, the third richest person on the planet, spend considerable cash on his daughter’s wedding ($60 million) and London estate ($100 million), making his house most expensive private estate aside from royalty. But, Goldman quickly added, when it comes to philanthropic activity: “[The billionaires] are a very generous bunch.” Gates has apparently donated 38% of his net worth to charity, while George Soros has donated 41% of his.

In 1982, America had 13 billionaires. Now, there are 341, with New York housing 34 resident billionaires-the most out of any city. Moscow and San Francisco tie for second place.

New or old, the world’s billionaires have diverse backgrounds. More than half are self-made, and 18 are high school drop outs. There are only 68 women billionaires, most notably Martha Stewart ($1 billion), who debuts on the list after being released from prison last week and whose stock, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, more than doubled in price while she was in prison. “They come from all walks of life,” Senior Editor Peter Newcomb said.

-Alexandra DeLuca