March 11, 2009— -- The world has become a wealth wasteland.
Like the rest of us, the richest people in the world have endured a financial disaster over the past year. Today there are 793 people on our list of the World's Billionaires, a 30-percent decline from a year ago.
Of the 1,125 billionaires who made last year's ranking, 373 fell off the list -- 355 from declining fortunes and 18 who died. There are 38 newcomers, plus three moguls who returned to the list after regaining their 10-figure fortunes. It is the first time since 2003 that the world has had a net loss in the number of billionaires.
The world's richest are also a lot poorer. Their collective net worth is $2.4 trillion, down $2 trillion from a year ago. Their average net worth fell 23 percent to $3 billion. The last time the average was that low was in 2003.
Bill Gates lost $18 billion but regained his title as the world's richest man. Warren Buffett, last year's number one, saw his fortune decline $25 billion as shares of Berkshire Hathaway fell nearly 50 percent in 12 months, but he still managed to slip just one spot to number two. Mexican telecom titan Carlos Slim Helú also lost $25 billion and dropped one spot to number three.
It was hard to avoid the carnage, whether you were in stocks, commodities, real estate or technology. Even people running profitable businesses were hammered by frozen credit markets, weak consumer spending or declining currencies.