The cost of living crisis has made it a struggle for many to put food on the table at Christmas, but for US tech billionaires and Russian oligarchs alike, the festive period is all gravy.
From Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg at the top of the tree to relative small fry such as Britain’s James Dyson and Jim Ratcliffe, Manchester United’s newest shareholder, the world’s wealthiest mostly got richer in 2023, figures show.
Even a coterie of Russian oligarchs have managed to keep growing their fortunes, at least on paper, shrugging off the impact of economic sanctions imposed on them in multiple jurisdictions in response to the Kremlin’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Of the world’s 50 richest people, 12 lost money in 2023 while the remainder watched their piles grow, albeit without adjusting for inflation. Of the top 500, 77% grew richer, some by almost unimaginable sums.
Musk tops the table with an estimated net worth of $235bn, according to daily data tracking the fortunes of the world’s top 500 billionaires, compiled by Bloomberg.
Despite reports that his stake in X, formerly known as Twitter, plunged by more than half after he paid $44bn for it in 2022, the South African-born billionaire’s bread-and-butter business, Tesla, came to the rescue.
Shares in the electric car company have more than doubled this year, giving it a notional market value of nearly $816bn and helping Musk, Tesla’s biggest shareholder, increase his overall wealth by nearly $98bn. That increase is more than the annual GDP of Angola.
Musk’s wealth increased by the most outright, despite his forthright suggestion that uneasy advertisers on X should “go fuck yourself” – but he did not make the largest gains in percentage terms.
One of the biggest winners on that score was his rival Mark Zuckerberg, whom he was due to fight in a cage match earlier this year before the pair thought better of it. The Facebook founder’s fortune leapt by 184%, from $45bn to $128bn, as the value of the social network’s parent company, Meta, soared by 172% over the year.
After a terrible 2022 in which Meta’s value collapsed following shareholder concerns that it was spending too much on a drive into the so-called metaverse and ignoring its key businesses WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook, the stock has recovered almost all its losses.
But Zuckerberg’s 2023 gains weren’t the paciest in the top 50 either. The Indonesian conglomerate owner Prajogo Pangestu enjoyed a roughly sevenfold increase in his wealth, thanks to a big bet on geothermal energy, catapulting him into the top 50 global billionaires with a count of $31.5bn.
There were some notable losers. While all of the top 14 increased their wealth, number 15 – the Indian billionaire Gautam Adani – saw his fortune fall by $36bn, to $84.3bn. The value of the Adani family companies collapsed after an activist investor accused Gautam of “pulling the largest con in corporate history”. Adani Group denied the allegations.
The list of billionaires is dominated by American men. Of the top 10 wealthiest people, France’s Bernard Arnault is the only representative from the rest of the world, with a $179bn fortune that grew by $17.2bn thanks to the performance of his LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton luxury group.
France also provides the highest-ranking woman on the list, the businesswoman and L’Oréal beauty empire heiress Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, who comes in at 12th place after a $316m increase that took her net worth to $99.1bn.
Many of the Russians hit with sanctions in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine have only grown richer, raising questions over the impact of measures intended by the US, UK and EU to restrict their financial freedom.
Sanctioned individuals whose wealth has increased include the nickel tycoon Vladimir Potanin, up nearly $2bn to $30.6bn; the metals to telecoms magnate Alisher Usmanov, $1.88bn higher at $20.3bn; and the industrialist Alexei Mordashov, up $1.3bn to $20bn.
Financial restrictions mean some of their assets remain illiquid: Mordashov’s stake in the German tour operator Tui is frozen under the sanctions regime, meaning his shares cannot be sold and he cannot collect dividends.
Britain provided 17 of the top 500 billionaires, compared with 189 from the US and 52 from China. Dyson was the richest Briton, in 95th place globally with a fortune of $19.9bn after a $5bn rise.
Not far behind, in 97th, was Ratcliffe, the Monaco-based petrochemicals tycoon who increased his wealth by $8.55bn, to $19.4bn. That figure now includes a £1bn stake in Manchester United, after he bought 25% of the club in a deal that completed this week.