2015 not a good year for the wealthiest

TOP LOSER: Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim was the biggest decliner on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index at market close on Monday. TOP GAINER: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was at No. 4 on the index after more than doubling his fortune to US$59 billio
TOP LOSER: Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim was the biggest decliner on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index at market close on Monday.PHOTO: REUTERS
TOP LOSER: Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim was the biggest decliner on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index at market close on Monday. TOP GAINER: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was at No. 4 on the index after more than doubling his fortune to US$59 billio
TOP GAINER: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was at No. 4 on the index after more than doubling his fortune to US$59 billion.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
TOP LOSER: Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim was the biggest decliner on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index at market close on Monday. TOP GAINER: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was at No. 4 on the index after more than doubling his fortune to US$59 billio
US investor Warren Buffett lost US$11.3 billion as his firm, Berkshire Hathaway, had its first negative annual return since 2011.
TOP LOSER: Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim was the biggest decliner on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index at market close on Monday. TOP GAINER: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was at No. 4 on the index after more than doubling his fortune to US$59 billio
The wealth of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, the world's richest person since May 2013, fell by US$3 billion during the year.
TOP LOSER: Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim was the biggest decliner on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index at market close on Monday. TOP GAINER: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was at No. 4 on the index after more than doubling his fortune to US$59 billio
The rise of Inditex, the world's largest fashion retailer, lifted Spain's Mr Amancio Ortega to within about US$10 billion of the top slot.
TOP LOSER: Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim was the biggest decliner on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index at market close on Monday. TOP GAINER: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was at No. 4 on the index after more than doubling his fortune to US$59 billio
Tech was the best-performing industry for billionaires this year: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg became US$12 billion wealthier.

Falling commodity prices, China concerns eat away at fortunes of world's top earners

The richest people on earth became a bit poorer this year.

The world's 400 wealthiest individuals shed US$19 billion (S$26.8 billion) in 2015, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Falling commodity prices and signs of a slower-growing China spooked investors around the world, leading to the first annual decline for the daily wealth index since its 2012 debut.

"After three great years, 2015 stock markets worry-wiggled sideways," said billionaire Ken Fisher, the founder of Fisher Investments, which manages more than US$65 billion. "Fears over an oil glut, soft consumer spending, and China breaking like a plate and taking commodities with it, saw investors take fright."

Mexican telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim was the biggest decliner on the index at the close of trading in New York on Monday, as his company, America Movil, dropped 25 per cent this year.

The world's richest person in May 2013, Mr Slim fell to No. 5 this year after losing almost US$20 billion as regulators ratcheted up efforts to break apart the business that controls the majority of Mexico's landlines and mobile phones.

United States investor Warren Buffett, the world's third-richest person, lost US$11.3 billion as Berkshire Hathaway had its first negative annual return since 2011.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, the world's richest person since May 2013, fell by US$3 billion during the year.

Mr Gates' losses and the continued rise of Inditex, the world's largest fashion retailer, lifted Spain's Mr Amancio Ortega to within about US$10 billion of the top slot.

The year's top gainer was Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who more than doubled his fortune to US$59 billion, at No. 4 on the index, as investors cheered profits at the world's largest online retailer.

The world's 400 richest people control a combined US$3.9 trillion, according to the index, more than the gross domestic product of every country on earth except for the US, China and Japan. At their peak on May 18, the billionaires had almost US$4.3 trillion. In August, they lost those gains and more when a global sell-off claimed as much as US$182 billion in a week.

The market declines knocked 49 billionaires off the daily ranking this year, including Glencore chief executive officer Ivan Glasenberg and Mr Wang Jing, a Chinese telecom entrepreneur, who personally invested US$500 million to help Nicaragua build an alternative to the Panama Canal.

China's billionaires had the wildest ride. On Jan 1, there were 23 Chinese billionaires on the index with a combined net worth of US$205 billion. At their May 27 peak, there were 31 with a combined US$348 billion. On Monday, there were 28 billionaires with US$256 billion.

Technology was the best-performing industry for billionaires this year. The 44 technology billionaires added US$81 billion. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg became US$12 billion wealthier as the social network embarked on a renewed mobile advertising push and its vast audience grew even bigger.

Strong ad sales also boosted the fortunes of Mr Sergey Brin and Mr Larry Page, the co-founders of Google parent, Alphabet. They gained a combined US$20 billion.

Mr Larry Adam, chief investment officer for Wealth Management Americas at Deutsche Bank, said that as turbulent as this year may have been, next year may be even more so.

"We're going to see a lot more volatility than we've seen over the past couple of years," said Mr Adam, who sees emerging-market currencies and uncertainty around the US election as among the major risks.

"Much more muted performance and much more volatility. Caution is warranted."

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2015, with the headline '2015 not a good year for the wealthiest'. Print Edition | Subscribe