Arnault's $107bn fortune knocks Gates down to 3rd place

LVMH chief takes 2nd spot in Bloomberg Billionaires Index as his company's shares hit record, putting him ahead of the Microsoft co-founder by $200m

French luxury group LVMH Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bernard Arnault presents the group's annual results for 2018 at the LVMH headquarters in Paris, on January 29, 2019. (Photo by ERIC PIERMONT / AFP)
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Bill Gates has never ranked lower than No 2 in the seven-year history of the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. That run ended Tuesday when the Microsoft co-founder dropped to third behind France’s Bernard Arnault.

LVMH, Mr Arnault’s luxury-goods maker, advanced to a record Tuesday and pushed his net worth to $107.6 billion (Dh395.16bn) and ahead of Mr Gates by more than $200 million. The shares extended their gains Wednesday, rising 0.7 per cent at 1:54pm in Paris. Mr Arnault has added about $39bn to his fortune in 2019 alone, the biggest individual gain by far among the 500 people in Bloomberg’s ranking.

Mr Arnault, 70, joined Mr Gates and founder Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, in the most exclusive wealth club last month, when his fortune surpassed $100bn for the first time. The trio’s collective wealth exceeds the individual market values of almost every company in the S&P 500 Index, including Walmart, Exxon Mobil  and Walt Disney.

This year has been particularly good to French tycoons, with Mr Arnault, Kering’s Francois Pinault and cosmetics heir Francoise Bettencourt Meyers tacking on a combined $57bn.

Mr Arnault and his family are among luxury titans who pledged more than $650m in April for the reconstruction of Notre Dame Cathedral after fire ravaged the landmark church. He controls about half of Paris-based LVMH through a family holding company and also owns a 97 per cent stake in Christian Dior, the fashion house founded three years before his birth in 1949.

Mr Arnault entered the luxury-goods market in 1984 by acquiring a textile group that owned Christian Dior. Four years later, he sold the company’s other businesses and used the proceeds to buy a controlling stake in LVMH. His art collection of modern and contemporary paintings includes pieces by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Damien Hirst, Maurizio Cattelan, Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso.

Were it not for Mr Gates’s philanthropic giving, he’d still be the world’s richest person. Gates has donated more than $35bn to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Mr Bezos’ net worth is up slightly this year to $125bn, even after reaching a divorce settlement with MacKenzie Bezos that made her the world’s fourth-richest woman.