Earlier in the year, news that the 10 richest men in the world had seen their global wealth double to $1.5tn since the beginning of the pandemic while 163 million more people had been driven below the poverty line caused consternation and widespread uproar. International charitable organization Oxfam went ballistic and urged governments to impose a one-off 99% wealth tax on Covid-19 windfall gains, arguing that the super-rich were unfairly benefiting from stimulus provided by governments.
Well, no nation is yet to heed Oxfam’s call, though Colombia, France, Norway, Spain, and Switzerland collected revenues from net wealth taxes on individuals in 2020. However, the disparity in wealth trends served as further proof that the aphorism that the rich keep getting richer while the poor keep getting poorer still rings true.
Well, sort of.
It’s exactly six weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine and triggered the world’s deadliest security crisis since WWII. The war is considered to pose the biggest risk to Europe due to its heavy reliance on Russian energy products while the World Bank has warned that it could lead to lasting damage to low- and middle-income countries.
On an individual level, however, the conflict is proving to be a mixed bag for the world’s super-rich. On one hand, U.S. energy barons have seen a 10% wartime wealth boost thanks to a surge in oil and gas prices ever since Russia started its assault on Ukraine. Harold Hamm, Jeffrey Hildebrand, Richard Kinder, George Bruce Kaiser and Dannine Avara have all seen their fortunes leap by double-digit percentages over the past six weeks alone thanks to their stakes in leading oil and gas companies.
But the majority of the world’s tycoons are taking their knocks these days.
According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, the total wealth of the world’s billionaires has dipped from a record high last year of $13.1tn to $12.7tn amid a drop in global stock markets since Russia invaded Ukraine. The lion’s share of the $400 billion decline can be chalked up to Russia after the country’s billionaires saw their collective wealth fall a staggering $260B thanks to widespread sanctions on Russian oligarchs.
Whereas the fall in percentage terms in the wealth of the world’s richest has not been big, the sheer number of people who have been struck off the list of the ultra-wealthy tells a more dire story.
According to the annual Forbes magazine ranking of the world's richest people, the world is now home to 2,668 billionaires, 329 less than it had a year ago including 34 fewer Russian billionaires. The decline in the total number of billionaires was the largest since the 2009 financial crisis, and marks a sharp contrast from an increase of more than 600 in 2021 when global stock bounced back from pandemic lows.
A good 169 newcomers to the list in 2021, including exercise bike company Peloton Interactive’s (NASDAQ:PTON) John Foley and the dating app Bumble Inc.’s (NASDAQ:BMBL) Whitney Wolfe Herd have already dropped off. PTON stock is down 31% YTD while BMBL has declined 24%.
Some 236 people have joined the billionaire club for the first time, including the pop star Rihanna, the Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson and the venture capitalist Joshua Kushner.
Meanwhile, Elon Musk, the eccentric boss of Tesla Inc.(NASDAQ:TSLA) and SpaceX, has been named the world’s richest man for the first time with a $219bn fortune, up $68bn on the previous year thanks in large part to the meteoric rise by TSLA stock. TSLA has declined 14% YTD but is still +51% over the past 12 months, giving the company a valuation of $1.13 trillion, by far the highest by an automaker.
Musk has leapfrogged Amazon Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) Jeff Bezos thanks to a 7% YTD drop by AMZN as well as $1.5B donated to charity. Bezos’ $171bn fortune makes him the second richest person on the planet.