18 Sep 2008

Gates tops US rich list for 15th year in row

9:20 pm on 18 September 2008

Microsoft founder Bill Gates is the richest person in the United States for the 15th year in a row, but economic woes have claimed some members of Forbes' magazine ranking of the 400 wealthiest Americans.

Dropouts this year include former American International Group chief executive Maurice Greenberg, and former eBay chief Meg Whitman, while among those on the list some 126 fortunes declined - six times more than last year.

"The fact that the rich are not getting richer means that the economy is locked," said Matthew Miller, editor of the Forbes list. "Credit is not being extended, there is very little liquidity in the markets and deals can't get done, so the economy contracts."

Forbes used publicly traded stock prices on 29 August when compiling the list, signaling that this week's stock plunges - part of the worst financial turmoil since the Great Depression - have further eroded many of these fortunes.

Although Mr Gates topped the list with a personal fortune estimated by Forbes to be about $US57 billion, this was down from the $US59 billion the magazine said he was worth last year.

Investor Warren Buffett came in at No 2 with $US50 billion, down from an estimated $US52 billion last year, followed in third place by Oracle Corp founder Lawrence Ellison, who is said to be worth $US27 billion.

After being booted out last year by Google Inc co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, four members of the Walton family, descendants of Wal-Mart Stores founder Sam Walton, return at positions numbers 4 through 7, all with fortunes of about $US23 billion.

Rounding out the top 10 are New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at No 8, with a fortune estimated at $US20 billion from his news and financial data empire, and brothers Charles and David Koch, who run manufacturing and energy company Koch Industries, and are valued at $US19 billion each.

The minimum net worth needed to get on the Forbes list is $US1.3 billion, while the average net worth of the 400 richest Americans is $US3.9 billion. Collectively, that means that the 400 richest Americans have a net worth of $US1.57 trillion, exceeding Canada's gross domestic product.

The youngest member on the rich list is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, 24, whose $US1.5 billion could swell if ever his social networking company goes public.

Of the 400 richest Americans, Forbes said 271 made their fortunes themselves, while 75 people inherited their money.