NEW YORK -- The richest people on the planet got even richer in 2012, adding $241 billion 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 email 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, as shares of Inditex, operator of the Zara clothing chain, rose 66.7 per cent.
"It's an amazing company that has done great and the gains are quite justified given its performance," said Christodoulos Chaviaras, an analyst at Barclays PLC in London. "Can they repeat that? It will be harder. A lot of the positive news is already reflected in the share price."
Global stocks soared in 2012. The MSCI World Index gained 13.2 per cent during the year to close at 1,338.50 on Dec. 31. The Standard and Poor's 500 Index rose 13.4 per cent to close at 1,426.19.
European stocks surged in the second half of the year. The Stoxx Europe 600 is up 19.6 per cent since June 4, advancing as the European Central Bank introduced bond-buying programs, S&P upgraded Greece's debt and German business confidence rose more than forecast. The benchmark gauge's 14.4 per cent advance for the year was the best annual return since 2009.
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. The largest mobile phone operator in the Americas by subscribers fell 5.8 per cent to close at 14.9 pesos at the end of the year.
"America Movil is no longer the growth story that it has been, given the increase in Latin American wireless penetration over the last five years," said Chris King, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co. in Baltimore, Md. "It continues to generate a very high amount of cash flow and has the best set of telecom assets across Latin America."
According to King, one of Slim's biggest challenges will be dealing with regulation in Mexico and Colombia designed to punish or even-out the market share between America Movil and its competitors.
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 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 per cent 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 five 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 (eighth on the Bloomberg index).
"Next year is going to be a lot of work for Eike," said Lucas Brendler, a manager at Banco Geracao Futuro de Investimentos in Porto Alegre, Brazil. "It's going to be a year for him to recover investors' confidence and to leave the realm of theory and start delivering results. The EBX companies have great growth potential."
Batista's former title as the richest Brazilian is now held by 73-year-old banker Jorge Paulo Lemann, who ranks 37th on the index with an $18.8 billion fortune. The country's second- richest person is Dirce Camargo, the matriarch behind Camargo Correa SA, the Sao Paulo-based conglomerate that has interests in cement, electricity and Havaianas flip-flops. Her net worth is $13.4 billion.
Camargo, who doesn't appear on any other major international wealth ranking, is one of 54 billionaires the index uncovered during the year. Among the others: Hamdi Ulukaya, the 40-year-old Turkish immigrant owner of Chobani, the best-selling yogurt brand in the U.S.; South Africa's Nathan "Natie" Kirsh, 80, who amassed a $5.4 billion fortune in retail and real estate; and Elaine Marshall, 70, whose 14.6 per cent ownership of Koch Industries makes her the fourth-richest woman in America. She is worth $14.1 billion.
Koch Industries' two other shareholders, brothers Charles and David Koch, are each worth $40.9 billion, up 20.9 per cent -- $7.1 billion -- for the year.
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.
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. He is worth $12.3 billion.