Wal-Mart Heirs Slip Lower on New Billionaires List

March 9, 2006 — -- A new list of the world's richest people reports that 2005 was a great year for billionaire software execs, Swedish furniture magnates, telecom heirs and publishing moguls -- and their yacht-makers.

But if your billions come from your family's discount mass-market retail chain, it might be time to start socking away a few bucks for a rainy day.

Forbes magazine released its annual list of billionaires today -- a group populated by a smorgasbord of tech entrepreneurs, media tycoons, investment gurus and, of course, the Wal-Mart money-printing machine. The list of billionaires increased by 102 this year to total 793 billionaires worldwide. They have a combined net worth of $2.6 trillion, up 18 percent from 2005.

The new list includes 371 Americans, the most of any country, and 78 women. New York had the most billionaires of any city, with 40, followed by Moscow (25) and London (23).

Billionaires Battle for the Biggest Yacht

Bill Gates will no doubt be shooting for a baker's dozen next year, as 2006 marked the 12th consecutive year the Microsoft chairman has ranked No. 1 on the Forbes list. With a net worth of $50 billion, Gates widened the gap between himself and No. 2, investment guru and Berkshire Hathaway founder Warren Buffett. The "Oracle of Omaha's" $42 billion net worth should be enough to keep the repo man off his back, however, at least until next year's list rolls around.

Gates' Microsoft cohort Paul Allen logged in at No. 6, the third-richest American. Unfortunately for Allen, he was also forced to play second fiddle in the "who has the largest yacht?" contest. Forbes noted that Allen's 414-foot yacht -- the Octopus, which includes a recording studio, two helicopter pads, a glass-bottomed lounge and a 39-foot submarine -- was only the second-largest on the list.

Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison's 453-foot Rising Sun, complete with basketball court and two upper decks made entirely of glass, took the prize for largest floating palace. According to Forbes, Ellison (who ranked No. 15 on the Forbes list at $16 billion) actually ordered the Rising Sun be built a few feet longer than Allen's Octopus just to "stick it to his Microsoft rival." Poor Allen; no matter how hard he tries, it seems he's always second best.

Russian oil tycoon Roman Abramovich's Pelorus is a comparative dingy, measuring 377 feet with two helicopter pads and a movie theater. Abramovich (No. 11, $18.2 billion) also owns two other yachts, the 370-foot Le Grand Bleu and the 282-foot Ecstasea.

And at least one billionaire can boast of a boat that doubles as a movie star. Saudi Arabian investor Prince Alwaleed ($20 billion, No. 8), the nephew of the Saudi king, owns a 282-foot yacht that was seen in the James Bond movie "Never Say Never Again." Though it might not measure up in length, the Kingdom 5-KR does include 11 guest suites, a sauna and a shower cubicle in the master suite carved from a block of solid onyx. Maybe size doesn't matter after all.

Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad's 229 stores allow shoppers in 33 nations to outfit their homes and dorm rooms with stylish Swedish furniture, and the company's clever marketing and massive store-opening celebrations have built a loyal customer base. For Kamprad himself, the steady run on cheap, chic furniture pushed his net worth up $5 billion to $28 billion, good for fourth on the 2006 list.

Moving in to the top 10 for the first time were French entrepreneur Bernard Arnault ($21.5 billion, No. 7), whose luxury Dom Perignon, Fendi and Louis Vuitton brands are no doubt staples for fellow members of the billionaires club -- like Canadian publisher Kenneth Thomson and family ($19.6 billion, No. 9) and Hong Kong businessman Li Ka-shing, whose $5.8 billion increase to $18.8 billion put him at No. 10.

The rest of the top 10 included Mexican telecom heir Carlos Slim Helu (No. 3, $30 billion); Indian steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal (($23.5 billion, No. 5) and Saudi Arabian investor Prince Alwaleed, the nephew of the Saudi king.

Wal-Mart Heirs Take a Hit

The Walton family, children of legendary Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, saw their considerable fortune decline this year. The family ranked Nos. 10 through No. 13 on last year's list, ranging from oldest son S. Robson Walton's $18.2 billion to daughter Helen Walton's $18.0 billion. But the past year was not as kind, and the Walton family saw a collective $9.4 billion drop in net worth push them to Nos. 17 to 20 on the 2006 list. The death of Sam Walton's son, John, in a plane crash also pushed daughter-in-law Christy into the No. 17 spot.

Other Americans in the top 20 included software developer Michael Dell of Dell Computers ($17.1 billion, No. 12), and Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson ($16. 1 billion, No. 14).

Cosmetics heiress Liliane Bettencourt, daughter of L'Oréal founder Eugene Schueller, ranked as the richest woman in the world. Her net worth of $16 billion places her at No. 15.

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