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Ranks of Global Billionaires Increasing at Faster Rate

The number of billionaires around the world rose by more than 100 last year, to a record-high of 793. VOA's George Dwyer has the details on a U.S. financial magazine's annual survey of the world's wealthiest people.

Forbes magazine began its annual survey of the world's richest people 20 years ago. Last week, at a news conference in New York, the magazine's publisher, Steve Forbes, announced its latest results. "2005 was an extraordinary year. There are 793 global billionaires, up from a total of 691 in 2004. There are 114 new individuals. Of those 793 billionaires, 452 are what we call self-made, they did it on their own."

Among them, Bill Gates, who again sits at the top of the list with $50 billion U.S., and U.S. investor Warren Buffet at number two. He is worth $42 billion U.S.

U.S. media queen Oprah Winfrey is number 562 on the list with $1.4 billion U.S. But while the U.S. added the most new faces, it was far from alone.

Mr. Forbes says the increase was not just from the U.S. "Going around the world, the United States added a net of 30 new billionaires to 371. India, no surprise, has ten new billionaires. China has gone from two billionaires to eight billionaires, and Russia, 27 billionaires in 2004 to 33 billionaires in 2005."

The magazine's first survey found only 140 billionaires. By 2003 that number had climbed to 476. Now it is approaching 800. The combined wealth of those listed in 2005 is $2.6 trillion U.S.

"Why is the list growing? Mr. Forbes asks, “The answer is an obvious one, the global economy is growing. In the last two years, the global economy has grown at growth rates not seen since the end of the Second World War."

Still, 2005 was not good news for every billionaire. The magazine reports 28 former members of the club fell from the list, including U.S. businesswoman Martha Stewart, who spent five months behind bars for obstructing justice, and saw her net worth dip to $500 million U.S. And Russian petrol magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who spent his third year in prison for fraud and theft. His net worth once thought to be $15 billion, is now estimated to be less than $500 million U.S..