America's super rich see their wealth reach an all-time high

Five years after a crisis, US tycoons are laughing all the way to the bank

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2013, 11:40am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 September, 2013, 4:33am

Five years after the financial crisis, America's super rich have recovered all their losses to see their wealth reach an all-time high.

According to Forbes magazine the 400 wealthiest Americans are worth a record US$2.02 trillion, up from US$1.7 trillion last year, a collective fortune slightly bigger than Russia's economy.

In another sign of fizziness at the top of the economy, the cost to enter the billionaires' club has also gone up to levels not seen since the 2008 crash. Now, an aspiring plutocrat needs at least US$1.3 billion to make the Forbes list - the highest since just before the collapse of Lehman Brothers sent stock markets plummeting.

Bill Gates is the richest American for the 20th year in a row, with a personal fortune of US$72 billion. The computer entrepreneur turned philanthropist recovered his position as the world's richest man in May, when he overtook Mexican mobile phone tycoon Carlos Slim, who held the top spot for the previous four years.

Gates, the university dropout who founded Microsoft and has given away US$28 billion since 1994, saw his fortune grow by US$6 billion since last year, partly helped by a rise in Microsoft's stock price.

In second place is Warren Buffett - the investor fêted for his shrewdness who recently bought Heinz - with a fortune of US$58.5 billion. The outspoken founder of software company Oracle, Larry Ellison, takes third place with a US$41 billion fortune.

The richest woman in the US, and the world, is Christy Walton, who inherited a retail fortune when her husband died in 2005. Walton is estimated to be worth US$35.4 billion, thanks to her shares in the world's largest supermarket, Walmart, which has annual sales of US$466 billion and employs 2.2 million people worldwide. She shares the Walmart fortune with her brother-in law Jim and sister-in-law Alice, who take sixth and seventh place on the list, with around US$33 billion each.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg edged into the top 20 after his personal fortune doubled to US$19 billion as the technology company's stock price revived over the summer, following a wobbly stock market debut last year.

But the social media tycoon is not the youngest on the list. That title belongs to his former dorm mate and Facebook co-founder, Dustin Moskovitz, 29, just a few days younger than Zuckerberg.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who made a fortune with the eponymous news and data company, retains his place as America's richest politician. Bloomberg, worth US$31 billion and America's 10th richest person, is due to stand down as mayor in December.

According to Forbes, one in 10 of the top 400 richest Americans are foreign born. These include George Soros, the Hungarian-born investor, who "broke the Bank of England" during the sterling crisis in 1992.

Others include Ukranian-born serial investor and London dweller Len Blavatnik (US$17.8 billion); Russian-born Google co-founder Sergey Brin (US$24 billion) and Australian-born media tycoon Rupert Murdoch (US$13 billion).