NEW YORK – Thanks to a surge in demand for steel, the Internet and Scandinavian sofas, there are some new names among the very richest of the world's billionaires.
Indian steel mogul Lakshmi Mittal (search), Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Slim Helu (search) and Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad (search) of Sweden knocked several Wal-Mart heirs down a few notches on Forbes magazine's 2005 rankings of the world's billionaires.
The billionaires are richer and more numerous for the second straight year, but the No. 1 spot is unchanged — Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates led the list for the eleventh year in a row with a net worth of $46.5 billion, slightly less than his $46.6 billion last year.
Investor Warren Buffet held a close second with $44 billion, up from $42.9 billion in 2004.
Mittal — the biggest dollar gainer after quadrupling his net worth by $18.8 billion to $25 billion — climbed 59 rungs from last year to No. 3 in 2005.
Helu came in fourth, up from No. 17 in 2004; Saudi Arabian investor Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud ranked No. 5; and Ikea's Kamprad rose to No. 6 from No. 13 last year.
Rounding out the top 10 were Microsoft's Paul Allen, German supermarket company owner Karl Albrecht, Oracle Corp.'s Lawrence Ellison — returning to the top 10 after slipping to No. 12 last year — and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s S. Robson Walton.
Four other Waltons took spots 11 through 13, with Alice and Helen Walton once again sharing the title of richest woman in the world with $18 billion each. The five family members of the late Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton are together worth over $90 billion.
The number of billionaires grew to a record 691 from 587 last year, and their total net worth rose by $300 billion to $2.2 trillion.
A confluence of factors contributed to the increase, said Forbes associate editor Luisa Kroll, including positive performance by many stock markets around the world — for example, in Ukraine and Iceland, countries that debuted on the list along with Kazakhstan and Poland — and the falling dollar.
Between February 2004 and February 2005, the 12-nation euro rose about 4 percent against the dollar, while the British pound rose about 3 percent versus the U.S. currency.
"If you were a euro-based billionaire, you could've done nothing and seen a 20 percent increase" over the past two years, Kroll said.
Soaring commodities like oil and steel also helped make the rich richer, as did the overall recovery of the global economy over the past few years.
"2003 was really the valley for the billionaires," Kroll said.
One of this year's 131 new billionaires — and one of the list's 68 women, up from 53 last year — was Martha Stewart, whose wealth swelled to $1 billion despite her conviction for lying about a stock sale and ensuing five-month prison stint.
Jail time was harder on the fortune of Russia's embattled Yukos oil company chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky, this year's biggest dollar loser after seeing an 85 percent tumble from $15 billion to $2.2 billion.
Not counting the 14 billionaires who died since last February, only 30 people dropped off the list from 2004, including five of Khodorkovsky's colleagues and hotel heir Robert Pritzker.
Among the big winners were Google Inc.'s Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who made their first list appearance last year with $1 billion each. The tech moguls jumped nearly 500 spots this year to No. 55, their net worth multiplying to $7.2 billion after the company's initial public offering in August.
At 31 and 32 years of age, Brin and Page are two of only 29 billionaires under 40 — the average age of billionaires this year was 64 — but youngest billionaire crown went to Germany's 21-year-old Albert von Thurn und Taxis, with $2 billion.
Forbes senior editor Pete Newcomb said the rankings were compiled using the Feb. 11 closing price of publicly traded stock owned by the billionaires. In the case of private companies, Forbes looked at comparable companies in the same industries in order to determine a value of a billionaire's holdings.
For real estate holdings, the magazine valued properties according to square footage, and subtracted any debt from a property's estimated worth.