Bizarre fortunes flourish as world’s richest gain $1.7 trillion
The leveraging of a giant social-media presence, a catchy tune about a family of sharks and a burgeoning collection of junkyards are just a few of the curious ways that helped make 2019 a fertile year for fortunes to blossom around the world.
Kylie Jenner became the youngest self-made billionaire this year after her company, Kylie Cosmetics, signed an exclusive partnership with Ulta Beauty. She then sold a 51 per cent stake for $US600 million.
It has been almost two months since the Washington Nationals captured their first World Series championship, but people around the world are still singing along to the baseball team’s adopted rallying cry: “Baby Shark, doo-doo doo-doo doo-doo.” The Korean family that helped popularise the viral earworm are now worth about $US125 million.
Even car wrecks proved to be a treasure trove. Willis Johnson, the gold-chain-wearing Oklahoma native who founded Copart Inc., has amassed a $US1.9 billion fortune by building a network of junkyards to sell damaged autos.
The emergence of atypical fortunes underscores just how much money the uber-rich accumulated in 2019.
And the richer they were at the start of the year, the richer they got. The world’s 500 wealthiest people tracked by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index added $US1.2 trillion , boosting their collective net worth 25 per cent to $US5.9 trillion.
Such gains are sure to add fuel to the already heated debate about widening wealth and income inequality. In the US, the richest 0.1 per cent control a bigger share of the pie than at any time since 1929, prompting some politicians to call for a radical restructuring of the economy.
“The hoarding of wealth by the few is coming at the cost of peoples’ lives,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described democratic socialist, said in a December 12 tweet as the UK began to vote.
Still, the defeat of Britain’s socialist opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose campaign included attacks on billionaires and calls to “rewrite the rules of our economy,” gave an added boost to mega-fortunes.
Leading the 2019 gains was France’s Bernard Arnault, who added $US36.5 billion as he rose on the Bloomberg index to become the world’s third-richest person and one of three centibillionaires – those with a net worth of at least $US100 billion.
In all, just 52 people on the ranking saw their fortunes decline on the year.
Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos was down almost $US9 billion, but that drop is because of his divorce settlement with MacKenzie Bezos. The e-commerce titan is still ending the year as the world’s richest person after Amazon shares jumped on Thursday. The company reported a ‘record breaking’ holiday season with billions of items shipped and “tens of millions” of Amazon devices like the Echo Dot sold.
Despite the widespread gains, plenty of the world’s richest people may be happy to wave farewell to 2019. The year included messy details of the Bezos divorce and the Jeffrey Epstein saga, which enveloped a who’s who of financiers and entrepreneurs, after the convicted pqedophile arrested in July by federal agents after stepping off his private jet at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.
Through it all, their bank balances remained robust, as a record bull market got a December kick with an easing of trade tensions between the US and China, a resolution to Britain’s political stalemate and a blowout US jobs report.
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