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Carlos Slim Helu tops Forbes list of world's richest Add to ...

Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim Helu has rocketed past Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to become the world's richest person, signalling a post-crash new world order with more economic muscle shifting to emerging markets.

Mr. Slim and his family dislodged the two American tycoons' traditional grip on the most-affluent rankings, by boosting his wealth 53 per cent in one year to reach $53.5-billion (U.S.) - No. 1 in Forbes' annual survey of global billionaires.

It marks the first time since 1994 that a non-U.S. billionaire has led the Forbes' rankings - and the second time since 1995 that Mr. Gates was not ranked No. 1 in the world. That year, in 2008, he was beaten by Mr. Buffett.

Now the two bridge-playing pals must make way for Mr. Slim, whose fortune exceeds, by a slender margin, Mr. Gates's net worth of $53-billion, although the software magnate's total was up almost 33 per cent since a year ago.

Over all, the Forbes' rankings have a much different look, with 97 billionaires joining the club, including 62 new entrants from Asia, in what is a trend toward non-American, non-European wealth.

The list also reflects a general fattening of billionaires' wallets over the past year, as stronger stock markets, stimulus packages and stirrings of consumer spending, particularly in Asia, pulled them out of the hole left by financial stresses of 2008-2009.

Indeed, the number of billionaires in the world soared by 27 per cent this year to 1,011, reaching almost the same level as two years ago.

Mr. Buffett, whose insurance- and media-laden portfolio tanked a year ago, is a poster child for this recovery. His wealth bounced back 27 per cent over the past year to reach $47-billion - although still well below the $62-billion of early 2008.

One notable addition to the top 10 is No. 8-ranked Eike Batista, the Brazilian resources tycoon with a net worth of $27-billion based on mining interests and a stake in a promising new offshore oil strike.

A year ago, he was a distant No. 61 with $7.5-billion in net worth.

This emerging-markets orientation is further underlined by India's Mukesh Ambani, No. 4 with $29-billion fashioned out of energy and petrochemical wealth, and his countryman, steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, No. 5 with $28.7-billion, including a Canadian market presence.

The only other American in the top 10 is software tycoon Lawrence Ellison, of Oracle Corp. fame, who ranks No. 6 with a net worth of $28-billion - although the United States still claims by far the most billionaires, with a total of 403.

But for the first time, mainland China has the most billionaires outside the United States, with 64, followed by Russia, with 62.

In fact, many Russian oligarchs climbed back into the billion-dollar club, after taking a beating in 2009.

There are, in fact, 30 Russians among the 164 recovering billionaires who returned to the fold after falling out in the 2009 rout.

The top European billionaire is French fashion and retail boss Bernard Arnault, who is worth $27.5-billion and sits at No. 7 globally.

In Canada, the top ranks have a familiar look. Information magnate David Thomson and his family added $6-billion - or 46 per cent - in wealth over the past year, ringing up a net worth of $19-billion, according to Forbes.

Mr. Thomson, whose assets include part ownership of The Globe and Mail, also moved up in the global rankings, rising to No. 20 from No. 24 last year - and from No. 31 two years ago.

As in the global league, the Canadian scene saw several wealthy people who had fallen out of the billionaire ranks climb back in.

Their return brings Canada's billionaire numbers to 24, up from 20 in 2009.

Calgary energy-to-hockey tycoon Murray Edwards bounced back to $1.4-billion in net worth, slightly above another resurgent oilman, Clay Riddell, whose net worth rose in 2010 to $1.3-billion.

Pharmacy magnate Jean Coutu also mounted a comeback, rising to $1.2-billion, while Douglas Fregin, one of Research In Motion Ltd.'s pioneering executives, clocked in at $1-billion.

The clearest gauge of economic well-being is the state of B.C. conglomerate owner Jimmy Pattison's sprawling finances.

A year ago, Forbes downgraded Mr. Pattison's fortune to $2.1-billion, a decline of 60 per cent.

Now, the happy warrior is back. His net worth is up 90 per cent to $4-billion, Forbes says. And if his broad mix of forest products, groceries, outdoor signs, terminals and theme parks is doing well, North America must be recovering, as well.

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