Mexican telecoms tycoon tops Forbes billionaires list

Forbes magazine released its annual list of billionaires Wednesday. This year's list had more names (1,210) and more combined wealth ($4.5 trillion US) than ever in the 25 years that Forbes has been tracking global wealth.

2011 a record year in number of billionaires, size of wealth

Mexican telecoms tycoon Carlos Slim Helu is the world's richest person according to Forbes magazine. Here, he is pictured at the Forbes Global CEO conference in Sydney on Sept. 29, 2010. ((Jeremy Piper/Associated Press))

Forbes magazine released its annual list of billionaires Wednesday. Below is an article written by Forbes staff giving some of the highlights of this year's list. (The article appears on the Forbes website  and on the sites of its media partners.)

The magazine's 25th year of tracking global wealth was a memorable one. The 2011 billionaires list breaks two records: the number of people on it (1,210) and their combined wealth ($4.5 trillion US). (All figures are in U.S. dollars.)

The wealth of this year's billionaires surpasses the gross domestic product of Germany, one of only six nations to have fewer billionaires this year. The so-called BRIC group of countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) led the way. It produced 108 of the 214 new names on the list.

These four nations are home to one in four members of the billionare club, up from one in 10 five years ago. Before this year, only the U.S. had ever produced more than 100 billionaires. China now has 115 and Russia 101.

Atop the heap is Mexico's Carlos Slim Helu, who added $20.5 billion to his fortune, more than any other billionaire. The telecom mogul, who gets 62 per cent of his fortune from America Movil ( AMX - news - people ), is now worth $74 billion and has pulled far ahead of his two closest rivals.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates is No. 2 on the billionaires list, with a net worth of $56 billion US. ((Ted S. Warren/Associated Press))

Bill Gates, No. 2, and Warren Buffett, No. 3, both added a more modest $3 billion to their piles and are now worth $56 billion and $50 billion, respectively. Gates, who now gets 70 per cent of his fortune from investments outside of Microsoft ( MSFT - news - people ), has actually been investing in the Mexican stock market and has holdings in Mexican Coke bottler Femsa and Grupo Televisa ( TV - news - people ).

While nearly all emerging markets showed solid gains, wealth creation is moving at an especially breakneck speed in the Asia-Pacific region. The region now has a record 332 billionaires, up from 234 a year ago and 130 at the height of the financial crisis in 2009.

Sizzling stock markets are behind the surge. Three-fourths of Asia's 105 newcomers get the bulk of their fortunes from stakes in publicly traded companies, 25 of which have been public only since the start of 2010.

U.S. slipping in ranks

America's wealthiest still dominate the global ranks, but the U.S. is losing its grip. One in three billionaires is an American, down from nearly one out of two a decade ago. It has 10 more billionaires than last year but 56 fewer than at its 2008 peak. The U.S. is adding new billionaires at a much slower pace; just six per cent of its 413 billionaires are new this year compared with 47 per cent of China's and 30 per cent of Russia's.

Still, there are plenty of inspiring newcomers who figured out clever ways to get rich. The most obvious example is the success of Facebook, whose soaring valuation over the past couple of years — based on the most recent institutional round the company is worth $50 billion — has spawned six billionaires.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is smiling because his fortune grew 238 per cent in the past year to $13.5 billion US. ((Paul Sakuma/Associated Press))

Leading the group is Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose fortune jumped 238 per cent to $13.5 billion in the past year. Also joining him in the world ranks are the company's co-founders Eduardo Saverin and Dustin Moskovitz, its first president, Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network), and the Russian internet investor Yuri Milner. Moskovitz, 26, is eight days younger than his former college roommate Zuckerberg, making him the world's youngest billionaire.

The frenzy among big investors for all things social pushed up private market values of online gaming outfit Zynga and online group-buying site Groupon, creating two more new billionaires, Mark Pincus (who taught people to farm on Facebook) and Eric Lefkofsky (who was Groupon's lead investor).

Canada's richest people

  1. Thomson Family: $23.36 billion.
  2. Galen Weston: $8.5 billion.
  3. James, Arthur and the estate of John (Jack) Irving: $7.46 billion.
  4. Rogers family: $6.02 billion.
  5. James Pattison: $5.53 billion.

(Canadian Business Online, Dec. 2, 2010)

Other notable American newcomers include Do Won and Jin Sook Chang, the cofounders of Forever21, and Chris Cline, who owns three billion tons of coal reserves, mostly in Illinois.

Why does Forbes spend so much time counting other people's money? Because these moguls have the power to shape our world. Telecom billionaire turned prime minister Najib Mikati is keeping Lebanon's government together. Ernesto Bertarelli, who lost the America's Cup sailing competition to Larry Ellison last year, is now focusing on saving the oceans from mass extinction. Gates and Buffett have already travelled to three continents working to change giving practices among the ultra-rich.

Where their inspiration leads, we will follow.

A note on methodology: More than 50 Forbes reporters in 13 countries worked on compiling the list this year, valuing individuals' public holdings, private companies, real estate, yachts, art and cash. Net worths were locked in using stock prices and exchange rates from Feb. 14. All figures are in U.S. dollars.