America's Richest People 2000

Poor Bill Gates. Well, poorer, anyway.

The cofounder and chairman of Microsoft is still the richest American but not by nearly as much after the drubbing his company’s stock has taken in the past year, Forbes magazine says in its annual ranking of the nation’s wealthiest people.

The vagaries of the stock market have pared-down Gates’ fortune — tallied at $85 billion last year — to $63 billion, Forbes reports. But Oracle CEO Lawrence J. Ellison — whose worth more than quadrupled in the past year — is close to overtaking Gates at the top of the wealthiest list.

Ellison, worth an estimated $58 billion, vaulted from No. 12 to No. 2 in the ranking, leading a modest shakeup that saw a number of technology titans switch places on the list. Some new names also joined the ranking for the first time, including Palm Pilot creators Jeffrey Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky, home furnishings diva Martha Stewart and professional wrestling’s Vince McMahon.

Rich Get Richer

Despite the arrival of new money, the ranking — featured in the Oct. 9 issue of the magazine, arriving on newsstands Friday — mostly offers evidence that the richest Americans keep getting richer.

The total net worth of all the people on the list jumped 20 percent to $1.2 trillion, nearly equal to the gross domestic product of Britain. Gates’ fortune alone tops the annual economic output of Peru.

The list’s average financial heavyweight is worth $3 billion, up $400 million from last year.

This year’s lineup includes 31 new billionaires, and three of every four on the list are worth at least $1 billion. Just to make it into the ranking took a minimum net worth of $725 million, up $100 million from last year.

Nobody on Forbes’ list is hurting, but some had better years than others and leapfrogged in the rankings. The most notable were Ellison, and Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore, whose worth jumped from $15 billion to $26 billion, lifting him from 11th to fifth in the ranking.

New Economy Additions Other up-and-comers include Broadcom co-founders Henry T. Nicholas and Henry Samueli ($10 billion each) and Sanjiv Sidhu, founder of software maker i2 ($9.8 billion).

The ranking includes fortune makers spread across the age spectrum, from Daniel Ziff, the 28-year-old heir who joined his brothers and turned a family publishing fortune into an even bigger investment portfolio, to Max Fisher, 92, who made his money in the oil business. Women account for 46 of the names on the list.

Of the 400 ranked, 137 inherited some or all of their wealth, Forbes said. But the remainder are self-made, and their average net worth exceeds that of the heirs.

California is home to 107 of those on the list, once again making it the most popular address for the wealthy. New York State was second with 47, Texas was third with 34 and Florida and Massachusetts followed with 16 each.

Gates, who lives in Washington State, retained the top spot for the seventh year in a row, with most of his wealth based on his holding of Microsoft stock. But thanks to a run up in Oracle’s stock price, Ellison’s stake in his company is actually worth more. What’s keeping Gates on top is the diversity of his portfolio, which also includes significant investments beyond Microsoft.

Next year, though, is an open-ended question. Ellison just negotiated a deal to give up his CEO’s salary in exchange for Oracle stock options.

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