There are now a record 5 centibillionaires after global stock surge

(Clockwise from top left) Bernard Arnault joins Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk in the rarefied club. PHOTOS: REUTERS, AFP

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - French luxury titan Bernard Arnault became a centibillionaire on Monday (Nov 9) after promising results of a Covid-19 vaccine spurred global equities higher, including Arnault's LVMH.

Mr Arnault joins Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk in the rarefied club. It's the first time five individuals have boasted fortunes exceeding US$100 billion (S$134.7 billion), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily wealth ranking. Overall, the group added US$68 billion to their collective fortune today.

For all of its tumult and crises, 2020 has been a banner year for the world's richest. The 500 people tracked by the index have added US$1.2 trillion in wealth since January, a 21 per cent gain aided by surging stock markets, ample liquidity and the ability to capitalize on depressed valuations.

The scorching pace of wealth gains among the world's very richest are exemplified by those occupying the index's top slots. Two years ago, there was only one centibillionaire on the planet: founder Mr Bezos, who is now practically a centibillionaire twice over despite a divorce which resulted in him ceding millions of Amazon shares to ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott.

"This is not a milestone to celebrate, but rather a troublesome reflection of a broken global economic system," said Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies.

The biggest gainer on the Bloomberg index Monday was Spanish retail tycoon Amancio Ortega, founder of Zara's parent Inditex. His net worth soared US$7.6 billion as investors embraced the possibility of an eventual return to physical stores. Once the world's second-richest person, Mr Ortega's retail-focused fortune was particularly hard-hit by the pandemic. Monday's boost erased almost half his declines for the year.

Not all the world's billionaires had a positive day. Those with fortunes tied to companies that thrived during the pandemic's upheavals saw their net worths dip as markets weighed a near-term future that didn't rely so heavily on video conferencing and in-home entertainment.

Zoom Video Communications chief executive officer Eric Yuan's net worth plunged by 20 per cent, or US$5.1 billion, as shares of the company slid. Peloton Interactive founder John Foley, who became a billionaire this year on the home fitness company's ascendant stock price, lost US$300 million.

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