It has been a tough year for many, with the coronavirus claiming 1.6 million lives globally (including more than 300,000 in the United States) and causing shutdowns that have led to widespread job loss and economic hardship. The world’s billionaires, however, have fared far better. More than 60% of the planet’s 2,200-plus billionaires grew richer in 2020, while 36% got poorer. The top five biggest gainers alone are a combined $310.5 billion wealthier.
No billionaire has had a bigger year than Elon Musk. The Tesla CEO started off 2020 with a net worth of $26.6 billion. Since then, his electric car company has consistently beat analyst expectations on vehicle deliveries and excited investors with its ever-improving technology. After an initial snub, the S&P 500 announced that Tesla would be added to the index on December 21. Tesla stock has increased sevenfold over the course of the year, and as of market close on December 11, Musk was worth $136.9 billion, making him the third-richest person on earth.
Gain: $110.3 billion
Net worth: $136.9 billion
In 2020, Musk had the biggest one-year gain of any billionaire since Forbes started tracking fortunes. Along with Tesla’s astronomical market performance, Musk benefited from receiving the first 4 tranches of his 12-part compensation package. Since May, he has been awarded stock options worth $27.5 billion. His side hustle, SpaceX, is also thriving. In May, the private space exploration company launched America’s first manned orbital mission since 2011. In November, it got permission from NASA to shuttle astronauts to and from the International Space Station, executing its first such mission later that month. Forbes estimates that Musk’s stake in SpaceX is worth $20 billion.
Gain: $67.5 billion
Net worth: $182.2 billion
He may not be the $200 billion man anymore, but Bezos is still the richest person in the world. Bezos holds an 11.1% stake in Amazon, which has a market capitalization of more than $1.5 trillion. The mega-retailer reached unprecedented heights during the pandemic, with shutdowns forcing many brick-and-mortar stores to temporarily close. Bezos, who is not particularly well-known for his charitable activities, has upped his game slightly. In February, he committed $10 billion to fight climate change, and he donated nearly $800 million to environmental organizations in November. His ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott (net worth: $59 billion), donated at least $5.8 billion to nonprofit organizations and charities this year.
Gain: $60.5 billion
Net worth: $62.5 billion
Zhong made a stunning climb in the billionaire ranks thanks to two successful initial public offerings this year. He founded and chairs Nongfu Spring, a bottled-water company that claims about one fifth of China’s bottled-water market. The company went public in September at $2.77 (HK$21.50) per share, and by December 11 shares had nearly doubled in price. He also controls vaccine maker Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy, which went public in April. The company has developed a nasal spray vaccine for Covid-19, which was in phase 2 trials as of November. On December 11, Wantai was trading at 15 times its IPO price.
Gain: $37.1 billion
Net worth: $43.9 billion
Gilbert, who cofounded the company that would become online mortgage lender Quicken Loans, also benefited from a massive IPO this year. Quicken Loans’ parent company, Rocket Companies, went public in August. Gilbert owns 95% of Rocket Companies, which was worth more than $41 billion as of market close on December 11. The upshot: Gilbert is worth more than six times as much as he was at the beginning of 2020. Gilbert is one of the wealthiest sports team owners in America, thanks to his majority stake in the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.
Gain: $35 billion
Net worth: $146.3 billion
Even during a messy year for his French luxury goods conglomerate, Arnault’s fortune grew by more than 30%. LVMH briefly abandoned its plan to acquire Tiffany & Co. when the pandemic hit, before coming to an agreement with the diamond retailer in October to acquire it for about $15.8 billion, about $400 million less than the original offer, announced in November 2019. Luxury sales are still down overall, but LVMH surprised investors this fall when it reported that sales of Louis Vuitton and Dior handbags were strong, particularly in countries like South Korea and China, which have controlled the spread of Covid-19. Throw in a more valuable euro—it’s up 8% vs. the U.S. dollar since the beginning of the year—and Arnault holds his spot as the second-richest person on earth.
Carlos Slim Helú
Drop: $5 billion
Net worth: $58.2 billion
Slim Helú and his family control América Móvil, the biggest telecom firm in Latin America. Although the business has been relatively stable during the pandemic, Slim’s net worth tumbled with the value of the Mexican peso. Against the U.S. dollar, the peso fell as much as 26% at its nadir in late March. Since then, the currency has mostly recovered, but is still worth about 5% less than what it was at the end of 2019.
Drop: $5 billion
Net worth: $35.1 billion
It’s been a rough year for the gambling industry, and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s net worth has taken a hit. He is the chair and CEO of Las Vegas Sands, which owns properties on the strip like The Venetian and The Palazzo, which temporarily closed its hotel tower in early December. Even after domestic tourism saw some pickup over the summer, Las Vegas Sands’ revenue was down 82% during the third quarter compared to the prior year. However, the future holds promise. As of December 11, Las Vegas Sands’ stock was up 18% compared to where it was at the end of October, thanks to promising coronavirus vaccine news.
Drop: $4.8 billion
Net worth: $8.1 billion
It’s not a great time to be in the theme park business. The pandemic initially forced theme parks to close, and companies to reduce capacity and take extra safety measures when they reopened. Sunac China Holdings, a real estate company founded and chaired by Sun Hongbin, bought the Dalian Wanda Group’s theme parks in 2017. As of December 11, Sunac’s stock was down nearly 40% for the year, wiping out more than one third of Sun’s net worth.
Hui Ka Yan
Drop: $4.6 billion
Net worth: $27.7 billion
Hui Ka Yan chairs Evergrande Group, one of the biggest real estate developers in China. In its midyear earnings report, Evergrande revealed that it owes $128 billion (RMB 835.5 billion) in debt, thanks to heavy spending on land purchases and building up its electric car unit. The company attempted to raise cash earlier this month by spinning off its real estate services brand, but the IPO received a lukewarm response. As of December 11, parent firm Evergrande’s stock was down nearly 22% for the year.
Drop: $4.3 billion
Net worth: $5.6 billion
Hamm, chair and CEO of independent oil producer Continental Resources, has lost more than 43% of his fortune since the beginning of the year. The oil industry, hit by a price war in March, has been in turmoil during the pandemic. Lockdowns and travel restrictions have meant that people are flying and driving less, decreasing demand for oil. Continental Resources’ stock has partially recovered from its springtime low, but is still down 45% since the beginning of the year.