Big names join the ex-billionaires club

The majority of Russian billionaires couldn't cope with the financial crisis, which wiped 55 names from the country's tally in the 2009 Forbes rich list. All of the 32 who remain on the list lost money - as did a staggering 87pc of all the world's tycoons.
The wallets of the worlds billionaires ended the troubled year an astronomical $2 trillion lighter, falling to $2.4 trillion. The new list has 793 billionaires, 332 fewer than in 2008 - putting Russian casualties at almost 17pc of the global total.

Competition for first place turned into a race for survival: Microsoft founder Bill Gates recaptured the title, with losses of "just" $18bn for a net worth of $40bn. Gates looks unscathed compared to Warren Buffett, whose fortune shed $25bn to take second place at $37bn, following the worst year ever for his Berkshire Hathaway.

Forty-four people managed not only to hang on to their wealth, but increase it. One of the best bets was on consumers looking to save money: nine of the worlds 20 richest people own discount stores.

Forbes compiles the report by looking at stakes in companies, private investments, real estate and art collections.

The list was shorter for the first time since 2003, when the number of tycoons fell to 476 with a combined worth of $1.4 trillion. A boom then began, led by developing markets and surging demand for raw materials, credit and property.

In 2005 Russians were third, after the USA and Germany, with 27 people, up from seven in 2002. By March 2008, Forbes listed 87 Russian billionaires, 110 less than two months later as the country's stock market soared.

But in the period from February 11 2008 to this year, the RTS Index fell 67.64pc, leaving 32 Russians on the list.

Their combined wealth fell $471.4bn to $102.1bn, depriving Moscow of its title as billionaire world capital. New York has taken over.

Oleg Deripaska was hardest hit: in 2008 his ninth place ($28bn) surpassed Roman Abramovich as the wealthiest Russian. The new list has him in 164th place at $3.5bn, a drop of 88pc.

"That's the value of Deripaskas companies minus debt," said Maxim Kashulinsky, editor of the Forbes Russia. Deripaska's holding, Basic Element, is speculated to have debts of $25-28bn.

Leading the Russian table now is Mikhail Prokhorov, who went into the crisis not with debt but dollars.

He sold Vladimir Potanin a 50pc stake in their holding KM-Invest, which controlled the majority of the former partners assets, as well as 25pc of Norilsk Nickel to RusAl. These deals brought him $8.5-9bn, and RusAl owes him another $2.8bn.

Prokhorov has already spent some of this, investing in Renaissance Capital, TGK-4 and his Snob media project. His fortune fell to $9.5bn from $19.5bn.

Abramovich has hung on to second place. "$8.5bn is about right, if you're talking about main assets after selling Sibneft and buying [into] Evraz. But no one knows how much is in his accounts," said a source close to Abramovich.

He said estimation of Abramovich's losses appeared to be based exclusively on Evraz's plummeting share price.

"Despite rumours, Roman had hardly any of his money in the stock market - he's fairly conservative in that regard." the source said.

This article was first published in Vedomosti newspaper

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