It’s been a rollercoaster year among the very wealthiest, with Musk, Jeff Bezos and LVMH’s Bernard Arnault all vying for the number one spot.
Athree-way race for the title of wealthiest person in the world intensified Thursday as Elon Musk, worth an estimated $177.4 billion at the day’s end, overtook French luxury magnate Bernard Arnault for second place. Arnault, who held pole position to start the week, got nearly $21 billion poorer over the past two days as LVMH shares tumbled 12.6%. That led to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos reclaiming the top spot with a fortune estimated at $185.5 billion.
It’s been a rollercoaster year atop the billionaire ranks. Since January, the three have periodically jockeyed for the lead on Forbes’ real-time tracker of the world’s richest people, with each coming out on top—and losing the title—multiple times over the past eight months.
The constant shuffling is unusual. Over the first three decades after Forbes began tracking billionaires’ net worths in 1987, only six people held the title of world’s richest person. In the early years, two Japanese real estate moguls—Yoshiaki Tsutsumi and Taikichiro Mori—topped the list, until Bill Gates came along in the late 1990s. From 1997 to 2017, Gates dominated the list, save for a single year when Warren Buffett took the top spot (2008) and a three-year stint when Mexico’s Carlos Slim Helu wrested the title (2010 through 2013). (Spanish retailer Amancio Ortega also grabbed the top spot for a few hours in 2015, and a couple days in 2016.)
RACE TO THE TOP
In recent years, the longtime Microsoft chief, has found himself firmly outside the top three thanks to gifts of stock to his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, transfers of at least $5 billion worth of shares in public companies to his ex-wife Melinda French Gates—and the meteoric rise of Bezos, Musk and Arnault.
Since early 2017—when Gates topped the World’s Billionaires list with an $86 billion net worth—Bezos has added more than $110 billion to his fortune on the back of skyrocketing Amazon stock, Arnault has ridden LVMH shares’ 225% climb to more than quadruple his net worth and Musk has had the steepest climb in history, gaining more than $150 billion in four years as Tesla has become the most valuable carmaker on the planet.
Net worth: $185.2 billion
Gain in past 12 months: $6.6 billion
Weeks this year ended at No. 1: 26
Bezos, the longtime Amazon CEO and now executive chairman, has been the world’s richest for most of 2021. Bezos began the year in first place and, after briefly dropping to No. 2, he regained the No.1 spot for about four months from mid-January until May. Bezos returned to the top spot on June 10, and maintained the lead for 50 days before losing footing when Amazon announced disappointing quarterly earnings in late July, which wiped $13.9 billion from his net worth in a single day. Even as Amazon’s stock continues to falter, an even shakier performance by the stock of Arnault’s LVMH helped Bezos to once again become the richest person on Wednesday.
Net worth: $177.1 billion
Gain in past 12 months: $110.9 billion
Weeks this year ended at No. 1: 1
Musk’s fortune has grown by more than $100 billion in one year, thanks to an extraordinary rise in the stock price of electric vehicle maker Tesla. After a brief drop at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, shares rocketed in subsequent months. On January 8, 2021—with Tesla shares up more than 1,000% from the pandemic-period low—Musk first became the world’s richest person, overtaking Bezos. For about a week, the two traded places on a near-daily basis, but as Tesla stock began to fall, Bezos solidified his position once again. Musk, meanwhile, was overtaken by Arnault and dropped down to third place for months beginning in April.
Net worth: $173.2 billion
Gain in past 12 months: $61.9 billion
Weeks this year ended at No. 1: 6
Through predatory instinct, Arnault has built a luxury empire that is the largest company in Europe by market capitalization. His LVMH owns dozens of brands, including fashion mainstay Louis Vuitton, alcohol producer Hennessy and cosmetics retailer Sephora. Earlier this year, LVMH completed a $15.8 billion acquisition of jeweler Tiffany & Co., victorious after a contentious saga that began with an unsolicited takeover bid. Arnault first became the world’s richest person in May and, after some days of jostling, he managed to hold Bezos off for about two weeks. When shares in Amazon fell in late July, Arnault reclaimed the number one position and held on for most of August, before threats of Chinese wealth redistribution tanked European luxury stocks and caused Arnault’s fortune to plunge by more than $20 billion this week.
By Kenrick Cai, Forbes Staff