How the world's richest, including Gina Rinehart, got poorer in 2015

The world's 400 wealthiest individuals shed $US19 billion ($26 billion) in 2015, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Falling commodities prices and signs of a slower-growing China spooked investors around the world, leading to the first annual decline for the daily wealth index since its 2012 debut.

Whoops: Australia's richest person, Gina Rinehart, lost more than a quarter of her wealth as iron ore plunged by almost half.
Whoops: Australia's richest person, Gina Rinehart, lost more than a quarter of her wealth as iron ore plunged by almost half.  Photo: Lisa Maree Williams

The 31 metals, mining and energy billionaires on the index were hit hard as a collapse in prices for oil, copper, iron ore and other natural resources shaved $US32 billion from their fortunes.

Australia's richest person, Gina Rinehart, lost more than a quarter of her wealth as iron ore plunged by almost half.

Carlos Slim lost almost $20 billion in 2015.
Carlos Slim lost almost $20 billion in 2015. Photo: Bloomberg

Rinehart started shipping iron ore from her $US10 billion Roy Hill mine in December, boosting global supply, which some analysts say could contribute to a further slide in price. She's the world's 10th-richest woman, with almost $US10 billion ($13.7 billion).

Billionaire Ken Fisher, the founder of Fisher Investments, which manages more than $US65 billion, said that after three great years, 2015 stock markets worry-wiggled sideways. "Fears over an oil glut, soft consumer spending and China breaking like a plate and taking commodities with it saw investors take fright."

Carlos Slim biggest decliner

Mexican telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim was the biggest decliner on the index at the close of trading in New York on December 28: his America Movil SAB dropped 25 per cent in 2015. The world's richest person in May 2013, Slim fell to number 5 this year after losing almost $US20 billion as regulators ratcheted up efforts to break apart the business, which controls most of Mexico's landlines and mobile phones.

Warren Buffett lost $US11.3 billion.
Warren Buffett lost $US11.3 billion. Photo: Bloomberg

US investor Warren Buffett, the world's third-richest person, lost $US11.3 billion as Berkshire Hathaway had its first negative annual return since 2011. Microsoft Corporation co- founder Bill Gates, the world's richest person since May 2013, fell by $US3 billion during the year.

Gates's losses and the continued rise of Inditex SA, the world's largest fashion retailer, lifted Spain's Amancio Ortega within about $US10 billion of the top slot. Ortega, Europe's richest person since June 2012, leapfrogged Slim and Buffett as he rose $US12.1 billion to $US73.2 billion.

Bill Gates, the world's richest person since May 2013, fell by $US3 billion.
Bill Gates, the world's richest person since May 2013, fell by $US3 billion. Photo: Nati Harnik

His 20 per cent rise was still $US19 billion short of the increase for the year's top-gainer, Amazon.com  founder Jeff Bezos. The New-Mexico-born billionaire more than doubled his fortune to $US59 billion as investors cheered profits at the world's largest online retailer. Bezos added $US31 billion in 2015, undoing the $US7.4 billion decline he had in 2014 and propelling him up 16 positions to number 4 on the index.

The shifts at the top came as global sharemarkets swung from early-year increases to sharp declines in the later months, with the MSCI ACWI Index falling 3.8 per cent by the end of trading on December 28.

The market declines knocked 49 billionaires off the daily ranking this year.
The market declines knocked 49 billionaires off the daily ranking this year. Photo: Bloomberg

400 people: nearly $4,000,000,000,000

The world's 400 richest people control a combined $US3.9 trillion ($5.37 trillion), according to the index, more than the GDP of every country on Earth except the US, China and Japan. At their peak on May 18, the billionaires had almost $US4.3 trillion, a $US267 billion increase from January 1. In August they lost those gains and more when a global sell off claimed as much as $US182 billion in a week.

After three great years, 2015 stock markets worry-wiggled sideways, says billionaire Ken Fisher.
After three great years, 2015 stock markets worry-wiggled sideways, says billionaire Ken Fisher. Photo: Gillianne Tedder

Bezos and Ortega dominated the upside of the year's gyrations, adding $US43 billion between them. The performance of the two billionaires contrasted with the family that owns about half of Wal-Mart Stores, the world's largest retailer: the five members of the Walton family lost a combined $US35 billion in 2015.

The market declines knocked 49 billionaires off the daily ranking this year, including Glencore chief executive Ivan Glasenberg and Wang Jing, a Chinese telecom entrepreneur who invested $US500 million to help Nicaragua build an alternative to the Panama Canal. Glasenberg lost two-thirds of his fortune as he raced to slash debt at the Swiss commodities company and Wang fell by about 86 per cent this year.

Technology was the best-performing industry for billionaires in 2015. The 44 technology billionaires added $US81 billion to their total net worth, led by Bezos's $US31 billion rise.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg became $US12 billion wealthier as the social network embarked on a renewed mobile advertising push and its vast audience grew even bigger. Strong ad sales also boosted the fortunes of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the co-founders of Google parent Alphabet Inc. They gained a combined $US20 billion.

As turbulent as 2015 may have been, 2016 may be even more so, according to Larry Adam, chief investment officer for Wealth Management Americas at Deutsche Bank.

"We're going to see a lot more volatility than we've seen over the past couple of years," said Adam, who sees emerging-market currencies and uncertainty around the US election among the major market risks. "Much more muted performance and much more volatility. Caution is warranted."

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