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09.03.2007 International

Billionaire club membership jumps

Rival billionaires are fast catching up on Microsoft's Bill GatesRival billionaires are fast catching up on Microsoft's Bill Gates

Membership of the world's billionaire club has swelled to almost 1,000, while members' net worth has risen by 35% on last year, according to Forbes.

A record 946 billionaires - worth a total of $3.5 trillion (£1.82 trillion) - now exist, up from 793 last year.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates held the top spot for the 13th year in a row with a net worth of $56bn.

Forbes put the increase in wealth down to surging commodity prices, real estate and strong equity markets.

"In the last five years... despite all the turmoil in the world, all the conflict in the world, the global economy in real terms expanded over 25%," said Steve Forbes, the magazine's editor-in-chief.

"Never in history has there been such an advance."

Closing the gap
But while the billionaire club's membership is growing, Mr Gates' lead appears to be diminishing as his fortune increased by a mere $2bn from last year.

Bill Gates (US, Microsoft) - $56bn
Warren Buffett (US, investor) - $52bn
Carlos Slim (Mexico, industrialist) - $49bn
Ingvar Kamprad (Sweden, Ikea) - $33bn
Lakshmi Mittal (India, steel) - $32bn

In second place, investment guru Warren Buffet is now worth $52bn - up from $42bn in 2006.

Meanwhile, Mexican telecoms giant Carlos Slim Helu held onto third place as his wealth surge by $19bn to $49bn.

And while the fortunes of the rich swelled, so did the list of countries where the wealthy came from.

Forbes Billionaire list now features 53 nations, including its first billionaires from Serbia and Romania.

Record year
"This growth in the billionaires list is a mere reflection of a dynamic global economy. More people are better off on this Earth than ever before," Mr Forbes said.

"This boom goes beyond commodities. One of the things that has facilitated this global boom, bringing hundreds of millions of people into the global economy is of course technology," he added.

Duke of Westminster (real estate) - $11bn
Philip & Christina Green (retail) - $7bn
Reuben Brothers (real estate) - $4.5bn
Simon Halabi (real estate) - $4.3bn
Richard Branson (Virgin) - $3.8bn

"This is the richest year in human history."
Russian oligarchs and Asian entrepreneurs were once again key themes dominating the list.

Russia added 19 newcomers to the list, while Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich remained the richest Russian, with a net worth of $18.7bn.

One odd quirk of the list was the fact that the UK boasts fewer billionaires than those living in London.

The UK can name Harry Potter author JK Rowling, retail tycoon Philip Green and Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone among its list of 29 billionaires.

But London is in fact home to 34 billionaires - with Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal topping the list with a fortune of $32bn.