Jan. 5, 2009 -- It was a dreadful year for the world's wealthiest as markets and currencies around the world tumbled.
More than 300 of the 1,125 billionaires we tallied on our annual list last March have since lost at least $1 billion; several dozen lost more than $5 billion. The 10 richest from our 2008 rankings dropped some $150 billion of wealth, dragged down by steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, estranged brothers Mukesh and Anil Ambani and property baron K.P. Singh, who together dropped $100 billion. America's 25 biggest billionaire losers of 2008 lost a combined $167 billion.
But even in such an awful year, the stories of a few billionaires and now former billionaires stand out as particularly dreadful.
Take David Ross, one of the U.K.'s most successful entrepreneurs. Earlier this month, Ross notified four public companies in which he was a major shareholder and director that he had borrowed against his shares to fund real estate investments that had soured. He will likely have to sell some of those stakes to pay off his debts. So far he has resigned from three of the four boards and stepped down from his post as an Olympics adviser. His fortune, which we estimated at $1.4 billion in March, is now worth about $150 million.
Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, former chairman and a large shareholder in Landsbanki, Iceland's second largest bank, saw the firm seized in October as the worst of the credit crisis tore through the island nation. The failure wiped out his $1.1 billion fortune. He has since had to put his holding company, Hansa, into voluntary liquidation and is selling his U.K. soccer team, West Ham.
Russians were some of the biggest losers in the past year. Vladimir Lisin's Novolipetsk Iron and Steel is down three-fourths since its June peak. Dmitry Rybolovlev's fertilizer company, Uralkali, has fallen 90% since it peaked around the same time.
But those losses pale compared with the troubles facing Oleg Deripaska. In March he was the world's ninth richest person and Russia's richest man, with a fortune we estimated to be worth $28 billion. Since then Deripaska has been forced to sell shares in Canadian carmaker Magna International and German construction firm Hotchief, and had to borrow $4.5 billion from a state-controlled bank to hold on to his stake in Norilsk Nickel. He will likely sell off additional assets to avoid losing even more of his fortune, now estimated at $10 billion. Or less.
Biggest Loser Among the Rich
The biggest loser of all was Anil Ambani. Touted on the cover of our 2008 billionaires issue for having added $24 billion to his fortune in one year, Ambani has dropped $30 billion since then. But don't worry too much. His Reliance Entertainment is investing $500 million in a new studio venture with Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks. Plus, he remains quite wealthy, worth $12 billion That's something many others can't claim.
Additional reporting by Tatiana Serafin, Russell Flannery, Naazneen Karmali and Cristina von Zeppelin.