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  1. Wealth
December 20, 2023

The billionaire class of 2023: who are the biggest winners and losers?

Succession planning, damning investigations and a European boom shaped the billionaire landscape this year – but who came out on top?

By Will Wainewright

2023 has been a good year for many of the world’s wealthiest billionaires, although the overall number is still down from its 2021 peak. UBS measured a 7 per cent growth in the number of billionaires from 2022-23, increasing from 2,376 to 2,544. Together, they are worth in the region of $12 trillion.

The US still boasts the most billionaires of any country in the world. Yet the EMEA region posted the strongest performance, as 2022’s post-pandemic shopping splurge boosted the profits and share prices of France’s leading luxury goods and cosmetics companies, benefiting the billionaire families behind them. The biggest winner was LVMH founder (and 2023 Spear’s Power List inductee) Bernard Arnault, who at one point overtook Elon Musk as the world’s richest man with a net worth of $212 billion. The title at the time of publishing, however, goes to Elon Musk, who ends a tumultuous year on a high.

But money isn’t everything. Billionaires also set themselves apart through philanthropy, business deals – and catastrophic downfalls. This is the billionaire class of 2023.

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Winner of the year: Elon Musk 

Net worth: $231 billion*

The South African owner of Tesla, SpaceX and myriad other companies has been omnipresent in 2023.

Musk’s turbulent stewardship of Twitter, which he renamed X, has generated masses of publicity. His political interests have taken his private jet from Rishi Sunak’s UK summit on AI safety standards to a meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel following the 7 October attack.

He even followed the likes of Steve Jobs and Henry Kissinger in receiving the Walter Isaacson biography treatment.

[See also: Why this generation of billionaire tech barons is a danger to the planet]

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Does all that make him a winner? Opinion is distinctly mixed, but the facts are inarguable. He regained his crown as the world’s richest man, partly due to a big recovery in Tesla’s share price, which has more than doubled so far this year.

His wealth has increased by many almost $100 billion — in the world of billionaires, that makes him a winner.

Power-luncher of the year: Bernard Arnault 

Net worth: $181 billion

Bernard Arnault

Succession planning was on the agenda for 2023 billionaire power-player Bernard Arnault, who finalised a plan this year which will allow his family to manage LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, his luxury and fashion group, for the next three decades.

Friendly rivalry too — despite being overtaken by Musk as the world’s richest man in the summer, having displaced him late last year, Arnault hosted Musk for what was billed 'the ultimate power lunch' in Paris. There was presumably no argument between the world’s richest duo over who paid the bill.

LVMH’s share price is in positive territory for the year, but the continued post-pandemic growth in travel and luxury sales, which sent its market cap past $500 billion for the first time in April, has since faded.

Bounce of the year: Françoise Bettencourt Meyers 

Net worth: $97.5 billion

Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, heiress to the L'Oréal fortune, has extended her fortune by $26 billion so far this year — making the richest woman in the world even richer.

The beauty company’s share price is up about a third in 2023, powering the huge wealth boost. She controls a third of the company and is the second-richest French person after Arnault. Just six of the top 20 billionaires as ranked by Bloomberg are based outside the US.

Giver of the year: Warren Buffett

Net worth: $121 billion

The 93-year-old founder of Berkshire Hathaway continues to give away his fortune.

In a rare letter to shareholders this year, he observed: 'Dynastic wealth, though both legal and common in much of the world including the United States, is not desirable. Moreover, we have had many opportunities to observe that being rich does not make you either wise or evil.'

Succession planning continues to be a major theme for the world’s leading wealthy, and Buffett also announced this year that Berkshire Hathaway had a plan in place. His long-time associate and fellow billionaire, Charlie Munger, recently died at the age of 99.

Baton-passer of the year: Rupert Murdoch

Wealth: $8.7 billion

It was a moment many in media-world said would never happen: the retirement of nonagenarian media baron Rupert Murdoch.

Riffs on Succession aside, his decision at the age of 92 to leave his posts as chair of Fox and News Corp and hand control to son Lachlan was the end of an era. During his career, the Australian-born billionaire has transformed the media landscape, for good and bad, throughout the English-speaking world.

With characteristic bite, his announcement made clear he will not be departing the stage altogether.

‘Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class,' he said. 'Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth. In my new role, I can guarantee you that I will be involved every day in the contest of ideas.’

Loser of the year: Gautam Adani

Net worth: $85.1billion

The work of Hindenburg Research has been catastrophic for Gautam Adani Hindenburg / Image: Martin Hargreaves

Gautam Adani, the Indian owner of Adani Group has had a chastening 12 months, and is one of the biggest billionaire losers of 2023. The year began with the release of a report in January by Hindenburg Research accusing it of ‘brazen stock manipulation’ and ‘accounting fraud’.

More scrutiny and reporting by media including the Financial Times followed, with Adani’s share price down by more than half in the months after the New York short-seller’s explosive report.

There has a fightback by Adani and his company, leading to a recovery of thoughts. But his wealth is down $35.4 billion so far in 2023, the biggest fall posted this year.

Will Wainewright is founding editor of hedge fund and private market news website Alternative Fund Insight

*Data taken from Bloomberg net worth rankings on 15/12/23

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