Moscow Tops New York for Billionaires
Russia nearly doubled its number of billionaires this year, producing 101 of the 1,210 world's wealthiest people, compared with 62 last year, Forbes magazine said in its annual world billionaires ranking.
The country ranked third by number of billionaires, coming after the United States and China, which produced 413 billionaires and 115 billionaires, respectively, Forbes said in a list published late Wednesday.
The magazine also said Moscow had won back its status as the world's billionaire capital, from last year's champion New York.
The surge in commodities prices helped fuel the presence of the country's biggest steel magnates in the top 100 of the Forbes list.
Novolipetsk Steel chairman Vladimir Lisin retained his crown as Russia's wealthiest person, growing his fortune to $24 billion from $15.8 billion in 2010.
Lisin, who is also the sole owner of Universal Cargo Logistics, was ranked 14th, making him the only Russian in the top 20. The businessmen rose from 32nd place in last year's ranking.
Alexei Mordashov, owner of steelmaker Severstal, placed 29th with a total fortune of $18.5 billion, growing from last year's $9.9 billion.
Mordashov increased his wealth largely because of the recovery in steel prices, Forbes said, adding that sales of Severstal's international assets would allow the businessman to "focus on his Russian interests."
Last year, Severstal sold 51 percent of its loss-making Italian unit Lucchini and is now seeking to sell the rest. The company also owns loss-making steel plants in the United States.
Other prominent Russian billionaires significantly strengthened their positions on the list over last year.
Alisher Usmanov, owner of the country's biggest iron ore producer Metalloinvest, earned $17.7 billion, jumping from 100th to 35th place.
Although the largest part of Usmanov's fortune comes from Metalloinvest, betting on technology assets also helped the businessman increase his wealth, which grew by $10.5 billion compared with his net worth at the end of 2009, Forbes said.
Internet firm Mail.ru Group, co-owned by Usmanov, had a successful share float in 2010, raising $900 million in London. The billionaire's Digital Sky Technologies also invested in Facebook, Zynga Game Network and social-commerce web site Groupon.
"All these assets are worth at least triple what they were a year ago," Forbes said in comments to the ranking.
Mail.ru Group co-owner Yury Milner, with a fortune of $1 billion, is among the most notable newcomers to the Forbes list.
RusAl head Oleg Deripaska ranked 36th, after Usmanov, with a fortune of $16.8 billion.
Deripaska, who rose from last year's 57th place, has been in an ongoing battle with Interros head Vladimir Potanin over control of Norilsk Nickel. A company extraordinary shareholders meeting, initiated by RusAl, will decide Friday whether to elect a new board of directors for Norilsk.
Potanin, with a net worth of $17.8 billion, was ranked 34th, breathing down the neck of Onexim Group president Mikhail Prokhorov, who rose seven notches to 32nd place, with a fortune of $18 billion.
Viktor Vekselberg more than doubled his fortune to $13 billion, after the value of his stake in TNK-BP jumped by 70 percent to reach $5.4 billion. Forbes ranked Vekselberg 57th, compared with 113th place last year.
It was China's demand for commodities that resulted in the growing number of new Russian billionaires and the increasing wealth of those who had previously been in the list, said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at UralSib.
At the same time, domestic expansion of the technology and retail sectors amid investor concerns that Russia is too reliant on raw materials resulted in a growing number of new billionaires coming from those sectors, he said by telephone.
Another factor was the growth of the local stock market, which surged by almost 20 percent last year, said Yaroslav Lissovolik, chief economist at Deutsche Bank Russia.
Shares represent the largest part of the billionaires' assets, and stock market growth "supported the financial positions of the population's wealthiest representatives," he told The Moscow Times.
Meanwhile, a number of Russian billionaires sank to the bottom, with Yelena Baturina, wife of former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, being among the biggest losers, as she slid to 993rd place from the 342nd position last year.
Investigators suspect Baturina, whose fortune dropped from almost $3 billion to $1.2 billion, of illegally obtaining about 13 billion rubles ($456 million) from Bank of Moscow.
Moscow, with 79 of the world's wealthiest people, "now has more billionaires than any other city," Forbes said.