Billionaires worth more than entire Chinese economy

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They number 450 and at $1,300bn (£860bn) are worth more than the gross domestic product of China.

They number 450 and at $1,300bn (£860bn) are worth more than the gross domestic product of China.

The latest billionaires list, published by Forbes Global magazine, shows that national economies may go through their ups and downs but the very rich continue to grow.

Fourteen Britons are now members of this very exclusive club, three more than last year. They are headed by the Duke of Westminster, with $5.5bn , followed by supermarket heir David Sainsbury, with $4.1bn, and Virgin chief Sir Richard Branson with $3.3bn.

Sir Richard, one of the best known entrepreneurs in Britain, sold 49 per cent of airline Virgin Atlantic to Singapore Airlines for $888m in December. Last year he also launched and Virgin Mobile, which hopes to be the first global mobile brand.

There are hierarchies even among billionaires. The Duke of Westminster and his family are the only ones from Britain to make it into the top 100 of the list, at number 58.

Microsoft chief Bill Gates remains the richest man in the world. He has seen seen his net worth go down by $40bn in a year but that still leaves him with $60bn. Larry Ellison, of Oracle, comes second with $47bn, mainly thanks to the shares in his company going up by 500 per cent in less than 12 months. Britain's 14 entries beat the 13 from France but are still a long way behind Germany's 39. The list includes 50 new names including three from India, six from the US, six from Canada and 15 from Japan, despite the continuing problems with the country's economy.

There are also three new British billionaires: The richest Welshman, a hi-tech venture capitalist, Terence Matthews; Matalan founder John Hargreaves and Duty Free Shopping Group's Robert Miller.

Terence Matthews, 56, is involved in a computer networking business in Canada. His Newbridge Networks is being bought out by French Telecom group Alcatel in a $7bn deal. He has spent the last 20 years building a 600-hectare resort, Celtic Manor, in Wales and plans to copy it in Ontario. He is also active in high-tech venture capital and sponsors athletics in Wales including a £0.66m rugby centre

Robert Miller, 67, made his initial wealth as a co-founder of the Duty Free Shopping Group before selling 61 per cent of the company to French entrepreneur, Bernar Arnault, for $2.56bn. Although 1998's Asian financial crisis hit duty-free sales hard, the company has been rebounding since.

John Hargreaves, 56, started with a market stall. Inspired by Sam's club in the US he founded discount membership retail group Matalan. Specialising in clothing and homeware, it now has 102 stores and revenues of £2.1bn. Rapid sales growth fuelled more than an 80 per cent increase in stock this year. Mr Hargreaves is now looking to expand the Matalan brand into home shopping catalogues and financial services.