Richest billionaires lose $1.4tn in first half of 2022

It is the steepest six-month drop ever for the ultra-wealthy

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Elon Musk’s fortune plunged almost $62 billion. Jeff Bezos saw his wealth tumble by about $63bn. Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth was slashed by more than half.

All told, the world’s 500 richest people lost $1.4 trillion in the first half of 2022, a dizzying decline that marks the steepest six-month drop ever for the global billionaire class.

It’s a sharp departure from the previous two years, when the fortunes of the ultra-rich swelled as governments and central banks unleashed unprecedented stimulus measures after the Covid-19 pandemic, juicing the value of everything from tech companies to cryptocurrencies.

With policymakers now raising interest rates to combat elevated inflation, some of the highest-flying shares — and the billionaires who own them — are losing altitude fast.

Tesla had its worst quarter ever in the three months through to June, while Amazon plummeted by the most since the dotcom bubble burst.

Though the losses are piling up for the world’s richest people, it only represents a modest move towards narrowing wealth inequality.

Mr Musk, Tesla’s co-founder, still has the biggest fortune on the planet, at $208.5bn, while Amazon’s Mr Bezos is second with a $129.6bn net worth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Bernard Arnault, France’s richest person, ranks third with a $128.7bn fortune, followed by Bill Gates with $114.8bn, according to the Bloomberg index.

They are the only four who are worth more than $100 billion. At the start of the year, 10 people exceeded that amount, including Mr Zuckerberg, who is now 17th on the wealth list with $60bn.

Changpeng Zhao, the cryptocurrency pioneer who debuted on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index in January with an estimated fortune of $96bn, has seen his wealth tumble by almost $80bn this year amid the turmoil in digital assets.

Still, the billionaire class has amassed so much wealth in recent years that not only can the vast majority withstand the worst first half since 1970 for the S&P 500 Index, but they’re likely looking for bargains, said Thorne Perkin, president of Papamarkou Wellner Asset Management.

“Often their mindset is a bit more contrarian,” Mr Perkin said. “A lot of our clients look for opportunities when there’s trouble in the streets.”

That held true in the first half of the year in some of the most distressed corners of the global financial markets.

Vladimir Potanin, Russia’s wealthiest man with a $35.2bn fortune, acquired Societe Generale's entire position in Rosbank earlier this year, amid the fallout from Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. He also bought out Russian mogul Oleg Tinkov’s stake in a digital bank for a fraction of what it was once worth. Mr Tinkov had sanctions imposed against him.

Sam Bankman-Fried, chief executive of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, bought a 7.6 per cent stake in Robinhood Markets in early May, after the app-based brokerage’s share price tumbled 77 per cent from its hotly anticipated initial public offering last July.

The billionaire, 30, has also been acting as a lender of last resort for some troubled cryptocurrency companies.

The most high-profile buyout of all belonged to Mr Musk, who reached a $44bn deal to buy Twitter. He offered to pay $54.20 a share.

He said in an interview with Bloomberg last month that there are “a few unresolved matters” before the transaction can be completed.

“There’s a limit to what I can say publicly,” he said. “It is somewhat of a sensitive matter.”

Updated: July 03, 2022, 4:30 AM
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