Tough times for the world's super-rich... now down to their last $1,540,000,000,000

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The Independent Online

The world's super-rich are having a tough time. Global economic troubles and the impact of 11 September have left more than half the world's billionaires watching their fortunes shrink.

The world's super-rich are having a tough time. Global economic troubles and the impact of 11 September have left more than half the world's billionaires watching their fortunes shrink.

But in the élite circle of the billionaires' club, all belt tightening is relative; the richest 497 people on the planet still have a combined worth of $1,540bn.

Since last summer, 249 of the hard-pressed tycoons have frowned as the occasional zero has disappeared from their bank balances. Collectively, they have lost $190bn. The club, which is listed today in Forbes Global magazine, has become even more exclusive, with 83 former members ejected since June last year due to insufficient funds.

The club captain, the Microsoft founder Bill Gates, retains his position despite managing to mislay $6bn (£4.2bn). He remains the richest man in the world for the eighth year running, with a fortune of $52bn.

His second-in-command, the stock market investor Warren Buffet, also remains in place with $35bn, although the gap between them has narrowed from $21bn to $17bn.

However, some of their colleagues have fared less well. Ted Turner, the largest shareholder in AOL Time Warner, watched his stock fall nearly 60 per cent, wiping $5bn off his worth and leaving him ranked 97th with $3.8bn.

Of the 13 British billionaires in the list, seven are poorer now than they were in June. Worst-hit was the banking family headed by Bruno Schroder, whose fortune fell by $0.9bn to $2.7bn.

Sir Richard Branson suffered from the decline in air travel after 11 September, which led him to Virgin's capacity by 20 per cent. He is now ranked 272nd, with a fortune of $1.8bn, a reduction of $400m on last year.

There was just one new entry: the financier Joseph Lewis, who is valued this year at $1.1bn, compared with $0.9bn the year before.

Britain's richest man remains the Duke of Westminster, whose property portfolio in the West End of London provides him $6.7bn and a ranking of 38. If the Duke represents old money, the new money addition to Britain's billionaires' club last year has not managed to keep up. Mark Dixon, a 42-year-old entrepreneur from Essex, who launched his career with a telephone sandwich-ordering business, scraped on to the list when he was valued at $1bn, but a reversal of his fortune has seen his wealth decline to just $170m.

More controversial members of Britain's super-rich élite have fared better. Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One tycoon who donated £1m to Labour and then took it back after allegations it had influenced government policy, saw his fortune rise from $2.5bn to $3bn, ranking him 127th.

Lakshmi Mittal, the industrialist at the centre of a recent Labour scandal, lost $400m this year, according to Forbes, leaving him with a fortune of $1.4bn. Although he was included in the list of British billionaires last year, he is classed as Indian this year. Forbes said this was because citizenship rather than residence was now being used for classification.

Despite the lack of movement at the top, the billionaires' club remains open to new members. Twenty eight were admitted, including seven from Russia, a Turk who mines soda ash and the Australian who founded Rosemount Estate wines.

The worldwide trend for antipodean wines has propelled Bob Oatley into the club with a fortune of exactly $1bn, making him one of three Australian members. Mr Oatley and his family planted their first vineyard in Australia's oldest wine growing region in 1969. They built the business into the market leader in the United States and last year sold to Australia's largest premium wine producer, Southcorp, for $450m in cash.

Lea Goldman, a senior reporter at Forbes Global, said the list reflected the world-wide economic downturn which had been worsened by the terrorist attacks of 11 September.

"Overall it reflects the market downturn although there have been fortunes up," she said. "In Europe it has not been necessarily a pretty sight because more fortunes are down than up."