Friday, July 6, 2007

Chairman Bill not quite so rich

Several news outlets (258 according to are reporting speculation that Bill Gates is no longer the richest man in the world. All the stories claiming Carlos Slim Helú now holds that honor quote one particular financial journalist in Mexico, Eduardo Garcia. As the AP (via the IHT) reported:

[Carlos Slim Helú]Slim controls Mexico’s largest fixed-line telephone company, Teléfonos de México, or Telmex, and owns other businesses in sectors from construction and music to restaurants and cigarettes. Garcia says Slim's current wealth represents nearly 8 percent of Mexico's total Gross Domestic Product.

In April, Forbes magazine reported that Slim had overtaken U.S. investor Warren Buffett to become the world's second-richest person, with holdings of US$53 billion (€39.6 billion).

But according to Garcia, Slim took over the No. 1 spot as early as late March, with a fortune surpassing Gates' by about US$1 billion (€740 million).

Garcia attributed Slim's latest rise to a 26.5 percent second-quarter bump in share prices for América Móvil SA, the largest wireless service provider in Latin America, which Slim controls. Garcia's estimate of Gates’ latest worth is based on a 5.7 percent rise in Microsoft shares during the same period.
Even Forbes — official scorekeeper for the world’s billionaires who ranked CSH #3 last fallseems to give the report credence.

Now any personal wealth over $50 billion seems like a lot of money to me (but then I’ll never make it to $5 million, so what do I know?) Other than the symbolic value of being #1, Gates is still pretty rich.

I think the report also reminds us of the value of telephone quasi-monopolies — Telmex has a 90% share, while his faster-growing mobile business (América Móvil) has a 73% domestic market share and also is a contender in other Latin American markets. SBC AT&T only covers half the USA, but 10% of it would be worth $25 billion.

Slim has made some smart bets — buying Apple near the bottom in 1997 and getting a 6x return in a year. But then he was stupid (or, more likely, egotistical enough) to think he could turn around CompUSA. However, Warren Buffet bet on USAir and Bill Gates keeps losing billions on the Xbox, so nobody’s perfect.

Photo: Forbes magazine, October 2006.

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