You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Billionaires club grew by nearly a third, to 2,755, during pandemic

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 4/6/2021 Hannah Denham
Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates posing for the camera: There are 724 Americans on Forbes' 35th annual ranking of billionaires, including (clockwise from right) Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. © AP, Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post/AP, Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post There are 724 Americans on Forbes' 35th annual ranking of billionaires, including (clockwise from right) Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk.

The number of newly minted and reissued billionaires soared last year, Forbes reported Tuesday in its annual ranking, a staggering accumulation of personal wealth that stands in sharp contrast with the widespread economic struggles unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of billionaires on Forbes’ 35th annual ranking swelled by 660 to 2,755 — a roughly 30 percent jump from a year ago — and 493 of them are first-timers. Seven of eight are richer than they were before the pandemic. Forbes calculates net worth by using stock prices and exchange rates from March 5.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, with an estimated fortune of $177 billion, topped the list for the fourth year running. Tesla chief executive Elon Musk came in at No. 2 at $151 billion. The shares of both companies soared last year, largely contributing to both men’s net worth and causing them to toggle for the “richest man” title on various lists.

Bezos, who will step down as Amazon CEO and become executive chairman later this year, owns The Washington Post and Blue Origin, an aerospace company that is developing rockets for commercial use.

A representative for Amazon declined to comment. Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

World’s richest men added billions to their fortunes last year as others struggled

Dan Romanoff, a Morningstar equity research analyst who covers Amazon, said the company seized 42 percent of the e-commerce as the pandemic fueled a surge in online shopping.

“Amazon had a phenomenal year, from a financial perspective,” he said. “They are pretty much the only game in town.”

The company’s revenue grew nearly 38 percent year-over-year in 2020, according to an earnings report filed in February, and its stock price has jumped more than 60 percent in the past year. On Tuesday, Amazon closed at $3,223.82, giving the company a market capitalization of $1.6 trillion.

“From the shareholder perspective, an outstanding year,” he said. “And if you’re Jeff Bezos … he owns a nontrivial stake in the company so his shares were obviously up.”

Bezos had a nearly 11 percent stake as of February, according to regulatory filings.

Musk owns 21 percent of Tesla, according to Forbes, which closed Tuesday at $691.62 and has spiked more than 530 percent in the past year. His rocket company, SpaceX, is valued at $74 billion, the report said.

Rounding out the top five are Bernard Arnault ($150 billion), who oversees LVMH, an empire of 70 beauty and luxury fashion brands including Louis Vuitton and Sephora; Bill Gates ($124 billion), the Microsoft founder and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private charitable foundation; and Mark Zuckerberg ($97 billion), the CEO and co-founder of Facebook.

Eleven percent, or 316, of the billionaires on the Forbes list are women. The richest is Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, the French granddaughter of the founder of L’Oreal, the cosmetics and personal-care giant, who has a net worth of $73.6 billion. Alice Walton, daughter of the Walmart founder, is second at $61.8 billion. Mackenzie Scott, an author and the ex-wife of Bezos, is third at $53 billion.

As a class, billionaires added about $8 trillion to their total net worth from last year, totaling $13.1 trillion. The United States had the most billionaires, at 724, extending a rapid rise in wealth that hasn’t happened since the Rockefellers and the Carnegies roughly a century ago. China, including Hong Kong and Macao, had the second highest number of billionaires: 698.

Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, said in an email that the explosive acceleration of wealth among the richest of the rich has only accelerated during the pandemic.

“In the United States, the top 400 wealthiest Americans now own the equivalent 18% of GDP in wealth, twice as much as in 2010 (9% of GDP). The pandemic has reinforced this trend, with a boom in top-end wealth despite the decline in economic activity,” he wrote. “This trend is unlikely to be sustainable: with growing wealth concentration comes a growing concentration of economic and political power in a few hands — a dangerous evolution that governments would be wise to address.”

While most of the world’s wealthiest people prospered during the pandemic, thanks in part to soaring stock prices, millions of Americans grappled with job loss, food insecurity, debt, eviction and poverty. U.S. lawmakers haven’t come together on a balanced approach to narrowing the wealth gap.

Last week, President Biden proposed raising corporate taxes up to 28 percent, in addition to more tax increases and policies to ensure that companies pay their domestic bills, in a $2 trillion jobs, climate and infrastructure spending proposal. But his American Jobs Plan was met by opposition on both sides of the aisle, major companies and business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Biden administration’s approach to corporate taxes contrasts with that of the previous occupant of the White House. The Trump administration enacted tax cuts in 2017, lowering the corporate rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

At the time, President Donald Trump argued that the cuts would fuel the U.S. economy, expanding the financial means of company executives to hire more workers and pay higher wages. But a London School of Economics report published in December found that tax cuts for the rich consistently benefited the wealthy and failed to boost employment and economic growth.


More from The Washington Post

The Washington Post
The Washington Post
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon