Buffett now third richest person as he overtakes Zara billionaire
WARREN Buffett, "the sage of Omaha", regained his spot as one of the world's top three richest people just weeks before signing the momentous deal with VHI revealed by the Irish Independent on Tuesday.
The 82-year-old American investor, who has signed a €700m re-insurance deal with the country's largest health insurer, only recovered his title as the third wealthiest person on earth in May of this year.
He had ceded it to Spanish retail tycoon Amancio Ortega last August.
Buoyed by 49pc growth in fourth-quarter profit, shares of his multi-national conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway rallied 14pc in the first five months of 2013.
His net worth now stands at $59.8bn (€45bn). Meanwhile Mr Ortega, founder of the Zara clothing chain, saw his wealth decline amid fresh concerns that Spain's continued recession will hurt earnings at his fast-fashion company.
Zara depends on its home country for one-fifth of its sales but growth has been stymied by an unemployment rate that has stayed above the 20pc rate.
Mr Buffett built up Berkshire Hathaway over almost five decades through takeovers and stock picks.
Long-term bets on stock-market indexes in the US, Europe and Japan have also paid off. "Maybe it ultimately proves the wisdom of Buffett's approach to riches – buying good solid investment vehicles when they're at prices that represent good value," said private banking strategist Bruce McCain. For Ortega, "retail is a difficult area to be in an economy as troubled as the Spanish one".
Known as the investor with the Midas touch, Mr Buffett's net worth still remains $12.4bn behind Bill Gates and $7bn behind Mexican investor Carlos Slim.
The battle for the top spot is a tight one – 57-year-old Gates only recaptured the title in May after Microsoft hit a five-year high. This is the first time he has held the mantle since 2007. In contrast, Mr Slim's America Movil, the largest mobile-phone operator in both North and South America, saw its share place plummet after Mexico's congress passed a bill that may undermine the billionaire's market dominance. This erased more than $3bn from the 73-year-old tycoon's net worth.
Most of Mr Gates' fortune is held in Cascade Investment, a holding entity through which he owns stakes in more than a dozen publicly traded companies and several closely held operations, including Four Seasons hotels.
Less than one-quarter of his wealth is held in Microsoft. Both he and Buffett are known for their generosity – the former has already donated $28bn through his Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, which funds education, healthcare and anti-poverty programmes, while the latter intends to have donated 99pc of his wealth before he dies.
(Additional reporting by Bloomberg)