Three of the world’s richest people have achieved staggering new levels of personal wealth.
The net worth of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos eclipsed $200 billion (Dh734.5bn) on Wednesday as shares of the e-commerce giant climbed to a record high. The move simultaneously pushed his ex-wife MacKenzie Scott, 50, to the brink of becoming the world’s richest woman, just behind L’Oreal heiress Francoise Bettencourt Meyers.
Elon Musk, meanwhile, extended an extraordinary stretch of wealth gains to become a centibillionaire. Tesla shares rallied on Wednesday, pushing his net worth to $101bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a listing of the world’s 500 richest people.
Tech companies boosted the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite indexes to new highs for a fourth straight day, buoyed by news that the Federal Reserve is likely to keep short-term interest rates near zero for at least five years.
The gains by Mr Bezos, 56, and Mr Musk represent the latest high water mark for wealth accumulation in a topsy-turvy year defined by both surging markets and catastrophic human and economic loss. The world’s 500 richest people have gained $809bn so far this year, a 14 per cent increase since January, even as a global pandemic caused a record drop in gross domestic product and millions of lost jobs.
The rising income inequality has provoked sharp responses from many progressive politicians and critics on the left. US Senator Bernie Sanders earlier this month introduced legislation to tax "extreme" wealth gains during the coronavirus crisis.
“We cannot continue to allow billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk to become obscenely rich while millions of Americans face eviction, hunger and economic desperation,” Mr Sanders said on Wednesday in a statement. “It’s time to fundamentally change our national priorities.”
Others view their massive wealth as justified, saying they’ve earned it through the creation of singular businesses. “When you look at Musk and Bezos, it’s understated to say that in their own ways, they’ve changed the world,” said Thomas Hayes, chairman of Great Hill Capital.
The surge in wealth is especially concentrated in the upper ranks of the billionaires index and has been fuelled largely by tech stocks, which have been on a tear as the pandemic drives more people online. That also includes a rise in the number of retail investors buying stocks.
Mr Musk, 49, now one of four centibillionaires in the world, has seen his fortune grow by $73.6bn this year, a jump still smaller than Mr Bezos’s, who is up by $87.1bn. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth topped $100bn earlier this month. On Wednesday alone, it rose by $8.5bn.
US tech tycoons haven’t been the only beneficiaries. India’s Mukesh Ambani became the first Asian to rank among the world’s five richest last month. He’s gained $22.5bn this year on the back of a boost in shares of his conglomerate Reliance Industries, whose tech division has attracted recent investments from the likes of Facebook and Silver Lake.
And despite growing tensions with the US, China’s tech billionaires have gained this year too. Tencent Holdings chief executive Pony Ma has amassed $16.6bn this year and is now worth $55.2bn. Alibaba Group Holding’s Jack Ma and William Ding of NetEase have also added more than $12bn each, putting their fortunes at $58.9bn and $30.8bn, respectively.