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A great year to be a billionaire

Survey finds wealth of world’s 100 richest rose in ’12

– 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 percent 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, according to the index, as shares of Inditex, operator of the Zara clothing chain, rose 66.7 percent.

“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 who’s had an “equal weight” rating on Inditex for about a year. “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 percent during the year to close at 1338.50 on Dec. 31. The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index rose 13.4 percent to close at 1426.19.

European stocks surged in the second half of the year. The Stoxx Europe 600 is up 19.6 percent 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 percent 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 percent – 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 percent 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. “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. Of the 14 analysts who cover the stock, 71 percent have a buy rating on the company, with an average target price of 19.15 pesos per share, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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 company rose 2.9 percent. Microsoft stock accounts for less than 20 percent 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 percent. And then over $10 million, 35 percent,” 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 percent 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 percent 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 he’d become the world’s wealthiest man by 2015, sold a 5.63 percent 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 5 percent 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 and ranked 8th on the Bloomberg index.

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.

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