One of the most striking things about the global rich these days is just how quickly they manage to make, and lose, money. In March, when markets plunged around the world amid worries about the covid-19 pandemic, Jeff Bezos, the boss of Amazon, lost $27bn of his wealth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. As the company’s share price bounced back, so did Mr Bezos’s fortune. His net worth has since risen by $82bn—a sum roughly equivalent to the annual output of Sri Lanka. On July 6th alone he made $10bn. Most wealthy people have not been so lucky. According to the latest "Global Wealth Report" by Credit Suisse, a bank, global household wealth fell by $17.5trn in the first quarter of 2020. Although most of these losses have been recouped, the report notes that assets are likely to grow more slowly “for the next couple of years, and likely longer”.
The impact of the pandemic on global household wealth overall has so far been minimal, according to Nannette Hechler-Fayd’herbe, the chief investment officer for Credit Suisse’s international wealth-management division. But some ultra-rich individuals have fared better than others. The report’s authors tracked the estimated wealth of 1,000 billionaires included in Forbes’s Real-Time Billionaires index from March 18th, when share prices bottomed out, to June 30th. They then compared their estimated wealth on June 30th with that on February 19th, when the S&P 500 closed at an all-time high.
They found, unsurprisingly, that tech billionaires have performed especially well. Between March and the end of June the net worth of both Mr Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, the boss of Facebook, soared by more than 50%. More than half of the 13 biggest gainers were from the tech sector. Another winner of the pandemic was Kuan Kam Hon, the boss of Hartalega, a Malaysian maker of synthetic gloves, whose wealth has doubled. Mr Kuan is now worth an estimated $7.6bn.
Billionaires residing in countries that have managed to escape the worst of the pandemic have tended to out-earn their peers elsewhere. In Britain, where more than 44,000 people have died, ranking it among the hardest-hit rich countries, billionaires lost about a quarter of their wealth between February and June. In Italy, which has also struggled to contain the virus, the ultra-rich lost nearly a third of their wealth. In South Korea, meanwhile, where only 455 people have lost their lives to covid-19, the nine billionaires in Forbes’s index grew roughly 10% richer in the second quarter. In China, where the virus first emerged but was also brought quickly under control, the net worth of the richest billionaires ticked up 3%.
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