It was the first time any country outside the United States, which has 413 billionaires, had more than 100. Moscow is now home to the most people on the list with 79 billionaires, easily outstripping New York, which has just 58.
The world’s richest man, Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, retained his crown for the second year in a row and made more money than any of the other 1,209 billionaires in the past year: $20.5 billion, taking his fortune to $74 billion.
Russia’s billionaire growth was attributed to a commodities boom. Brazil also benefited from higher commodity prices, as well as stricter disclosure rules and a stronger currency. In China and India, which has 55 billionaires after adding six, strong economies helped create wealth from a range of sectors.
“The bottom line is BRICs, commodities and Asia Pacific,” Forbes Chief Executive Steve Forbes told a news conference on Wednesday. “There is a global commodities boom. But as we should have learned … commodities can go up very sharply, they can go down very sharply.”
The Reuters Jefferies CRB commodities index .CRB rose 17 percent last year and is up another 8 percent this year as copper and gold hit record highs, grains are near their 2008 peaks and, most recently, oil surged beyond $100 a barrel.
Brazil, Russia, India and China produced half the world’s 214 new billionaires, double last year’s 97 newcomers.
Among the newbies in the Forbes list are four billionaires whose fortunes are tied to social networking site Facebook — co-founders Dustin Moskovitz and Eduardo Saverin and investors Yuri Milner and Sean Parker. They join Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who soared to No. 52 from No. 212 and now has an estimated worth of $13.5 billion, and Facebook investor Peter Thiel, who was also previously on the list.
One of the biggest movers up the list was U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who posted the biggest increase in wealth behind Slim.
He is worth $23.3 billion, up from $14 billion, and soared to No. 16 from No. 73 last year in a remarkable turnaround for a businessman whose Las Vegas Sands Corp (LVS.N) came close to defaulting on its debt in 2008.
While India’s number of billionaires did not increase much, their “average net worth … is huge — $4.5 billion for an Indian billionaire versus $2.5 billion for a Chinese billionaire,” said Forbes.
Russia is also trumping China with 15 billionaires in the top 100, compared to China’s one, while India has seven and Brazil three.
RICH AND GENEROUS
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates held on to second place, growing his wealth to $56 billion from $53 billion last year, and investor Warren Buffett again came in third with $50 billion, up from $47 billion.