The world's richest made $242 billion in a year

US President-elect Donald Trump. Photo / AP
US President-elect Donald Trump. Photo / AP

In a year when populist voters reshaped power and politics across Europe and the US, the world's wealthiest people are ending 2016 with US$237 billion ($242b) more than they had at the start.

Triggered by disappointing economic data from China at the beginning, the UK's vote to leave the European Union in the middle and the election of billionaire Donald Trump at the end, the biggest fortunes on the planet whipsawed through US$4.8 trillion of daily net worth gains and losses during the year, rising 5.7 per cent to US$4.4 trillion by the end of December 27, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The gains were led by Warren Buffett, who added US$11.8 billion during the year as his investment firm Berkshire Hathaway saw its airline and banking holdings soar after Trump's surprise victory on November 8. Buffett, who's pledged to give away most of his fortune to charity, donated Berkshire Hathaway stock valued at US$2.6 billion in July.

The US investor reclaimed his spot as the world's second-richest person two days after Trump's victory ignited a year-end rally that pushed Buffett's wealth up 19 per cent for the year to US$74.1 billion.

"2016's been event-driven with global news driving prices rather than fundamentals," said Michael Cole, president of Ascent Private Capital Management. "The belief that Trump is going to come in and deregulate big parts of the economy is driving the markets right now."

The individual gains for the year were dominated by Americans, who had four of the five biggest increases on the index, including Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates, the world's richest person with US$91.5 billion, and oilman Harold Hamm.

The country's richest were largely opposed to a Trump presidency during the election, including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who told the media in May that stocks could fall as much as 20 per cent if Trump were to win the election.

US billionaires - including Buffett - favoured Trump's rival Hillary Clinton. Still, they profited from his victory when they added US$77 billion to their fortunes in the post-election rally fuelled by expectations that regulations would ease and American industry would benefit.

The New York real estate mogul is building a cabinet heavy on wealth and corporate connections, and light on government experience, a mix that hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio said last week would unleash the "animal spirits" of capitalism and drive markets even higher. Dalio is the world's 63rd-richest person with US$14.1 billion.

Investors and executives welcomed Trump's picks, including billionaire Wilbur Ross to lead the Department of Commerce and former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. executive Steven Mnuchin as his Treasury secretary, who have a combined net worth of at least US$5.6 billion, according to the index.

"You know, I was not opposing Trump as much as most people," Saudi Arabian billionaire Mohamed Bin Issa Al Jaber said in December. "He's capable and - as a businessman - he's shrewd about the bottom line. The people he's surrounding himself with have baggage but they're also successful and shrewd."

France's Bernard Arnault was the sole non-American representative among the five best performers, adding US$7.1 billion to take his fortune to $38.9 billion. His LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE said the Chinese luxury-goods market is improving.

- Bloomberg

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