Selling $3,000 handbags at a time when consumers are pinched might seem like an impossible job, but Bernard Arnault isn't daunted. In fact, he's optimistic. The French billionaire says he expects a sharp rise in earnings at his company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which makes luxury goods like TAG Heuer watches and Louis Vuitton leather bags.
He's got good reasons for this confidence. Arnault has grown LVMH's market share during prior economic slowdowns. It's this prowess that built LVMH into the world's biggest luxury goods empire. It's also given Arnault a net worth $25.5 billion US and the title of fourth-richest European citizen.
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No matter how grim the environment for consumers becomes, Arnault can count on at least 298 Europeans not cutting back on purchases. That's the number of European citizens on Forbes' most recent list of the world's billionaires. The combined net worth of this affluent group is an astonishing $1.4 trillion.
The wealthiest of them all is Ingvar Kamprad. As a teenager he peddled matches and pens by bike. He found his real knack, though, with designing and selling furniture.
The Swedish founder of Ikea is today worth $31 billion. His empire of utilitarian, affordable home goods keeps expanding. This summer, Ikea will open a store in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook. It's Ikea's first New York City store, and its 277th overall.
Few can match Kamprad's wealth — the one who comes closest is Oleg Deripaska. The Russian magnate is the second-wealthiest man in Europe with a net worth of $28 billion.
He owes his considerable fortune to his hold on Russia's aluminum industry. The commodities magnate is now expanding from metals into horses; he reportedly hopes to create an elite stable of world-class thoroughbreds.
Deripaska leads an impressive contingent of Russian wealthy. The former Soviet republic now has 87 billionaires with a collective net worth of $471.4 billion. (Although part of Russia is in Asia, the vast majority of Russian billionaires live in the European city of Moscow).
The collapse of communism set off a mad scramble for wealth in the country, and more than a few ended up with a huge haul. Other notable billionaires from the country include Europe's fifth-wealthiest, Roman Abramovich. The man with a fortune of $23.5 billion watched from a luxury box recently as his soccer club Chelsea lost in the finals of the European Champions League.
Trailing Russia in billionaire population is Germany, with 59 billionaire citizens with a combined net worth of $284.6 billion.
Its wealthiest is Karl Albrecht. Following World War II, he and his younger brother Theo took over their mother's corner grocery store. With a zeal for expansion, they turned it into discount supermarket giant Aldi. Karl now has a net worth of $27 billion. Brother Theo is worth $23 billion. (All net worths were calculated in March as part of our ranking of the world's billionaires).
The former Soviet republic now has 87 billionaires with a collective net worth of $471.4 billion US.
Despite the plethora of customers who shop at their stores, little is known about the siblings. They stay far from the media spotlight, with only scant trivia about them surfacing in print. Theo supposedly collects old typewriters, and Karl raises orchids.
The United Kingdom has the third most billionaires in Europe. Britain's richest citizen, Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, is the 18th richest in Europe. He owes his fortune to his considerable land holdings.
Particularly valuable are hundreds of acres he owns in central London neighborhoods. His family bought them cheap back in the 17th century when the land was a cabbage farm. Smart buy. Today, Grosvenor is worth $14 billion.