The legion of American billionaires has grown to 51 people, despite the 1987 stock market crash that realigned the fortunes of many of the nation's wealthiest.
Forbes magazine says its annual survey shows the net worth of the ultra-affluent totaled $84.8 billion - nearly $5 billion more than the combined wealth of last year's 49 billionaires.The 349 others in Forbes' list of the 400 richest Americans were worth about $135.2 billion.The average fortune is $551 million, up $1 million from last year.
Topping the list released Monday is 70-year-old Sam Walton, who held the No. 1 spot for the fourth straight year even though his net worth shrank by $2 billion following the Oct. 19 stock market crash.
But Walton, head of the Arkansas-based Wal-Mart discount store empire, scoffs at his $6.7 billion fortune, calling it "just paper - all I own is a pickup truck and a little Wal-Mart stock."
Forbes said Walton is the world's fifth-richest person after Japan's Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, worth $18.9 billion; Taikichiro Mori, $18 billion; and Haruhiko Yoshimoto, $7.8 billion; and Canada's Kenneth Cole Irving, $8 billion.
But last year's crash slashed fortunes and caused 22 former members to be dropped from the list because their fortunes slipped below Forbes' $225 million cutoff.
The list appears in the Oct. 24 edition of Forbes and is based on holdings as of Aug. 30.
Runner-up to Walton on the U.S. billionaire list is John Werner Kluge, the German-born head of Metromedia Co., with a net worth of $3.2 billion. Next were H. Ross Perot, founder of Electronic Data Systems, with $3 billion; publishers Samuel I. Newhouse Jr. and Donald Newhouse, $2.6 billion each; and Pittsburgh industrialist Henry Lea Hillman, $2.5 billion.
Underscoring the adage that the more you have,
the more you can lose, billionaires were among those hit hard by the crash. Among the big losers were David Packard, founder of Hewlett-Packard, media magnate Rupert Murdoch and retailer Leslie Wexner, each of whom lost up to half their fortunes.
Newcomers to the billionaire club include flamboyant New York real estate developer Donald Trump, who claims a net worth of $3.47 billion, though Forbes' estimate is in the $1 billion range.
Other newcomers are Sumner Murray Redstone, who boosted his balance sheet with the takeover of Viacom, $1.4 billion; press-shy Charles Feeney, who runs Duty-Free Shoppers at airports, $1.3 billion; and Charles Sammons, head of Sammons Enterprises, the nation's 15th largest cable TV operator, $1.3 billion.