September 30, 2009 / 10:36 PM / 8 years ago

U.S. wealthiest lost $300 billion in last year: Forbes

<p>Microsoft founder Bill Gates attends a news conference at the launch of the 2009 DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) Report in London June 11, 2009.Stefan Wermuth</p>

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The super-rich are getting poorer with the 400 wealthiest Americans losing $300 billion of net worth in the past year, hurt by sagging capital and real estate markets, according to the annual Forbes magazine ranking.

The Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans, released on Wednesday, said Warren Buffett was the biggest loser, with the famed investor shedding $10 billion in net worth as shares in his firm Berkshire Hathaway tumbled.

The list of top 10 richest Americans remained virtually unchanged from the 2008 list, with Microsoft Corp founder Bill Gates in the top spot with a fortune of $50 billion, down $7 billion from last year.

Buffett was No. 2 with $40 billion and Oracle Corp founder Lawrence Ellison was No. 3, with his fortune unchanged at $27 billion. Ellison was the only member of the top 10 who did not suffer significant losses.

The U.S. stock market, as measured by the Standard & Poor's 500 Index, slid about 43 percent from September 2008, when the financial crisis erupted, through March -- shedding $5 trillion in market value.

The wealth estimates were made according to asset values on September 10. Many at the top saw their net worth rise since March, when Forbes published its list of the world's richest people, coinciding with the bottom of the bear market.

The top 10 combined lost almost $40 billion, said Matthew Miller, editor of the Forbes list, in what he called a "bloodbath" of wealth destruction for America's rich and not-so-rich alike. The net worth of all 400 combined fell 19 percent, to $1.27 trillion from $1.57 trillion.

"No one is going to cry for any of these super-rich guys, because even the ones who dropped from $2 billion last year to $100 million still have a very nice lifestyle," Miller said.

But he warned about a trickle-down effect since many of these executives wield economic power, including control over thousands of jobs.

<p>Billionaire financier and Berkshire Hathaway Chief Executive Warren Buffett eats ice cream as he walks during the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders meeting in Omaha, Nebraska in this May 2, 2009.Carlos Barria/Files</p>

"It really doesn't spell anything good for any of us," he said. "If they're getting poorer, we're likely getting poorer."

Four descendants of Wal-Mart Stores Inc founder Sam Walton returned this year at positions 4 through 7, with fortunes between $21.5 billion and $19 billion.

Completing the top 10 were New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with a fortune of $17.5 billion from the news and financial data empire that bears his name, and brothers Charles and David Koch, who run manufacturing and energy company Koch Industries and are valued at $16 billion each.

LOWER BAR

This marked the fifth time since 1982 -- when the business magazine began chronicling the fortunes of America's richest people -- that their collective wealth fell.

About 314 members of the Forbes 400 saw their fortunes shrink, lowering the price of admission to the list to $950 million, from $1.3 billion a year ago.

The list includes 19 new members such as Isaac Perlmutter, chief executive of Marvel Entertainment Inc, which recently agreed to be bought by Walt Disney Cos for $4 billion, and Jeffry Picower, a longtime investor with Bernard Madoff who is accused in a civil lawsuit to have profited by at least $5 billion from the Madoff fraud.

One newcomer, banker Andrew Beal, tripled his net worth to $4.5 billion by buying cheap loans and assets.

Thirty-two people fell off the list, including former Citigroup Inc Chief Executive Sanford Weill, accused swindler Allen Stanford, who has been in a Texas jail since June, and brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, whose Station Casinos Inc filed for bankruptcy during the past year.

The full Forbes 400 list can be seen at www.forbes.com/400richest.

Editing by Daniel Trotta and Sandra Maler

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