NEW YORK (Reuters) – The net worth of the richest Americans grew by 13 percent in the past year to $1.7 trillion, Forbes magazine said on Wednesday, and a familiar cast populated the top of the annual list, including Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Larry Ellison and the Koch brothers.
The average net worth of the 400 wealthiest Americans rose to a record $4.2 billion, up more than 10 percent from a year ago, while the lowest net worth came in at $1.1 billion versus $1.05 billion last year, the magazine said. Seven in ten of the list’s members made their fortunes from scratch.
It was a bad year, however, for social media moguls, whose net worth fell by a combined $11 billion. On the heels of Facebook Inc’s rocky IPO in May, the No. 1 social network’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, was the year’s biggest dollar loser: his net worth fell by nearly half to $9.4 billion from $17.5 billion. He also slid to the No. 36 slot from No. 14 a year ago, Forbes said.
Facebook shares have fallen 40 percent from their IPO price of $38 a share in May.
Dismal performances by other social media stocks dropped some executives from the list altogether, including Groupon Inc Chairman Eric Lefkofsky, No. 293 on last year’s list, and Zynga Inc Chairman and CEO Mark Pincus, No. 212 on the 2011 list.
“The gap between the very rich and merely rich increased and helped drive up the average net worth of The Forbes 400 members to an all-time record $4.2 billion,” said Forbes Senior Wealth Editor Luisa Kroll.
Collectively, this group’s net worth is the equivalent of one-eighth of the entire U.S. economy, which stood at $13.56 trillion in real terms according to the latest government data. But the 13 percent growth in the wealth of the richest Americans far outpaced that of the economy overall, helping widen the chasm between rich and poor.
Forbes attributed the growth in net worth in part to the performance of the stock market and a recovering real estate market.
But while their wealth grew faster than the economy as a whole, which expanded at an anemic 1.7 percent annual rate in the second quarter of 2012, the super rich generally failed to keep pace with the stock market. The benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose nearly 20 percent over the 12 months ended August 24, the last date of market performance measured for this year’s list.
FAMILIAR NAMES AT THE TOP
Gates, the chairman of Microsoft Corp., topped the list for the 19th year in a row, with $66 billion, up $7 billion from a year earlier.
Buffett, chairman and chief executive of insurance conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Inc, stood second with $46 billion, followed by Ellison, head of software maker Oracle Corp, with $41 billion. Brothers Charles and David Koch, who run the energy and chemicals conglomerate Koch Industries Inc and who are active in conservative politics, were tied for fourth with $31 billion, Forbes said.
The ranks of the top five were unchanged from a year earlier.
Two notable names dropped from the top 10, however. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, also active in conservative political causes, fell to the 12 spot from No. 8 last year, and financier and liberal philanthropist George Soros dropped five spots to No. 12.
Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire founder of Bloomberg LP who is now in his third term as New York City mayor, rose to the No. 10 slot.
Newcomers to the elite club of 400 include Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple Inc (AAPL.O) cofounder Steve Jobs who is now the wealthiest woman in Silicon Valley, and Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter.
Just 45 women made the cut, up from 42 last year, Forbes said.
California has the largest share of Forbes 400 members, with 87, followed by New York, Texas, Florida and Illinois. Among cities, New York City topped the list, with 53. San Francisco, Dallas, Los Angeles and Houston rounded out the top-five cities.
One quarter of the Forbes 400 come from the finance and investment sector while another quarter come from either the technology, media or energy industries.
The complete list can be found at: http://www.forbes.com/forbes400 .
(Additional reporting by Edith Honan in New York; editing by Matthew Lewis)
Bill Gates (Reuters / Jim Urquhart)
The United States may be in crisis, but the rich keep getting richer. The net worth of the Forbes 400 richest Americans grew by 13 per cent in the past year to $1.7 trillion, as the gap between rich and poor continues to widen at a staggering rate.
The average net worth of the 400 wealthiest Americans shot up by $400 million to a record $4.2 billion, Forbes said, serving to underscore glaring wealth inequality in America.
Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft Corp, is one year shy of topping the list for two decades straight with $66 billion, a massive $7 billion hike from the previous year.
Warren Buffet, the American investor who likely became infamous amidst the uber-rich for proposing a tax hike on the wealthy, somewhat ironically trailed Gates with $46 billion. Larry Ellison, the cofounder and CEO of Oracle, clinched third with $41 billion – up $8 billion from last year. Charles and David Koch, the energy and chemical magnates notorious for bankrolling scores of right-wing advocacy groups, came in fourth and fifth respectively with $31 billion each.
The top five remain unchanged from last year, though collectively they are much richer: all five men are worth $34 billion more than in 2011.
One notable entry on the list – founder and CEO of Facebook Inc Mark Zuckerberg – did not see his fortunes rise, however.The social networking giant’s wealth nearly halved to $9.4 billion after Facebook’s lackluster initial public offering in May. His position dropped from 14 to 36 on the list.
Warren Buffett (Mario Tama / Getty Images / AFP)
The 13 per cent spike in wealth for America’s wealthiest citizens stands in sharp contrast with the overall US economy, as the Federal Reserve recently cut its forecast for economic growth this year to between 1.7 per cent and 2 per cent.
Median workers’ wages meanwhile have been flat over the last forty years. The real minimum wage has also actually declined over the same period from $10.55 (adjusted for inflation) in 1968 to just $7.25 today.
By contrast, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that between 1979 and 2007, the top 1 per cent of Americans income grew by 275 per cent. Meanwhile, it is estimated that during the economic expansion between 2002 and 2007, the income of the top 1 per cent grew 10 times faster than the income of the bottom 90 per cent.
The CBO also found that between 1979 and 2005, after-tax income for middle-class Americans (adjusted for inflation) rose by 21 per cent while the richest 0.1 per cent grew by 400 per cent.
Income is the flow of money coming into a household over a year, while wealth or net worth represents the stock assets it has as a result of inheritance and savings.
As America remains embroiled in a jobless recovery, the latest Forbes 400 list confirms a sentiment expressed by Paul Krugman last year. In an op-ed for the New York Times, he said Occupy Wall Street had aimed too low in identifying their enemy, as the movement’s real slogan should read: “we are the 99.9 per cent.”