It’s been a year of pandemic-driven lockdowns, political upheaval and—especially for the planet’s richest people—incredible wealth gains. With major stock markets soaring high, Forbes estimates that the 2,200-plus billionaires in the world have collectively gotten $1.9 trillion richer in 2020.
The world’s billionaires are worth an estimated $11.4 trillion, based on Forbes’ calculations using stock prices from Friday, December 11. That’s up 20% from collective wealth of $9.5 trillion on December 31, 2019.
America’s billionaire class had a smashing 2020. Altogether, the more than 600 U.S. billionaires are worth $4 trillion, a gain of $560 billion since the beginning of the year, aided by record-breaking stock markets. The S&P 500, sitting near all-time highs, is up 13% this year despite the March Covid-crash; the Nasdaq is up 38%.
No one in the world has had a better 2020 than Elon Musk, whose fortune has grown an astonishing $110 billion this year to nearly $137 billion, making him the third richest person in the world. The surge came from skyrocketing shares of Tesla Motors, which have ballooned by 630%. That rise has been fueled by incredibly bullish investors and the fact that the electric carmaker will be added to the S&P 500 index on December 21.
The world’s richest person, Jeff Bezos, had the second best year. Bezos, who is worth $182 billion, has gotten $67.5 billion richer in 2020 thanks to rising Amazon stock; the online retailer has been cashing in on a world shopping from home.
While U.S. tycoons grab headlines for their increasing fortunes, Chinese billionaires as a group have actually gotten the richest this year in dollar terms. The country, which imposed heavy lockdown rules after the Covid-19 outbreak began, has bounced back in stunning fashion from its start as the epicenter of the pandemic. The CSI 300 Index, which tracks 300 of China’s leading companies, is up 19% this year—helping Chinese billionaires add a total of $750 billion to their aggregate net worths in 2020. Altogether, the 400 Chinese billionaires are worth $2 trillion. That doesn’t include the 67 Hong Kong billionaires, whose fortunes rose a collective $60 billion, to an aggregate of $380 billion.
French billionaires notched the third biggest dollar gains as a group this year. The country’s 40 super-rich are worth $500 billion, $95 billion more than a year ago. More than half of that increase comes from just two big gainers: luxury goods titan Bernard Arnault and L’Oreal heiress Francoise Bettencourt Meyers. Shares of Arnault’s LVMH—which owns brands like Louis Vuitton, Hennessy, Bulgari and Christian Dior—have climbed 30% this year, making Arnault—the world’s second richest person—$35 billion richer. L’Oreal stock is up 25%, meanwhile, helping add $14 billion to Bettencourt Meyers’ fortune, which she inherited from her late mother Liliane Bettencourt, the daughter of L’Oreal’s founder.
Of course not every country’s billionaires have gotten richer. In long-struggling Brazil, where the benchmark Bovespa Index is down about 3% from last year, the country’s 50 billionaires are a total of $13 billion poorer. That’s also compounded by the weakening of the Brazilian currency, the real, against the U.S. dollar. In Thailand, where the SET index is down about 7%, the country’s 30 billionaires are $6 billion poorer in aggregate.