It’s tough at the top: world’s richest fight to keep wealth

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MEXICAN telecoms magnate Carlos Slim Helu has kept his spot as the world’s richest man for the third year running, according to the Forbes list of billionaires out yesterday.

But his family fortune slid $5bn to $69bn over the year, closing the gap between him and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who remains in second place with a net wealth of $61bn, up $6bn on last year.

The pair’s performance over the year is mirrored in the rest of the list, with plenty of movement up and down the table as the turbulent world economy pays off handsomely for some but swallows others.

Forbes said 128 new entrants had made it onto its list of the world’s wealthiest, while 117 dropped off in what it called “a year of churn and burn”. It estimates there are a record 1,226 dollar billionaires worldwide, with a combined wealth of $4.6 trillion – up by $100bn on last year.

The world’s wealthiest are still mostly based in the US, with 425 billionaires compared with Asia-Pacific’s 315. Both regions enjoyed slight gains.

Forbes names 37 UK-based billionaires, with the Duke of Westminster, Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor (pictured inset), still the most valuable thanks to his lucrative land holdings.

Grosvenor’s family wealth slid from $13bn to $11bn over the year, according to Forbes’ estimates, making him the 78th richest man in the world.

The biggest gainer was Mexico’s Ricardo Salinas Pliego, a broadcasting and electronics magnate who added $9.2bn to his net worth in the year, clinching $17.4bn and 37th place.

Notable new entrants include Sara Blakely, the self-made founder of the Spanx underwear range, with a net worth of $1bn.

The $10bn float of Glencore last May made new billionaires out of a handful of its partners, with head of oil Alex Beard, coal head Tor Peterson and joint heads of zinc and copper Daniel Badenes and Aristotelis Mistakidis making their debuts on the list.

Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest of the listed billionaires at 27 years of age, closely followed by his Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz.

The duo are among 100 or so billionaires who have made their fortunes in telecoms and technology. But while the sector is proving lucrative for many intrepid business owners, the Forbes list also charts the decline of those who fail to keep up with the fast-moving industry.

Former Research in Motion co-chiefs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazardis both crashed out, following the dire performance of their BlackBerry range.

Another prominent faller was steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, who lost an eye-watering $10.4bn to drop out of the top 20 rankings for the first time since 2004.

Amid the volatility of this year’s table, the Forbes list itself is facing down a challenger. Bloomberg this week launched its own billionaires’ list, to be updated daily.