U.S. financier Warren Buffett has overtaken Bill Gates as the world's richest man, according to Forbes annual billionaire's list, which this year saw Russia, China and India making increasing inroads.
Buffett, the 77-year-old chief of the Berkshire Hathaway holding company, saw his wealth jump from 52 billion dollars last year to 62 billion, pushing Microsoft co-founder Gates into third position after 13 years at the top.
Mexico's telecom mogul Carlos Slim Helu grabbed second place with a tidy nest egg of 60 billion dollars, up from 49 billion last year.
Buffett, who announced in 2006 he was giving the majority of his fortune to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, saw his wealth spike mostly due to the rising value of his Berkshire Hathaway stock.
"The amazing thing about Buffett going to the top of the list is that he did it at a time when he was giving away his money," said Steve Forbes, the magazine's editor in chief.
In total, this year's list sees 1,125 people around the world making the billionaire's list, up from 946 last year. Their total net worth stands at 4.4 trillion dollars, up from 3.5 trillion dollars in 2007.
"This past year was an amazing one around the world in terms of the global economy and it's reflected on this list," said Forbes, adding that the number of billionaires had almost doubled in the past four years.
"The reason for this explosion in wealth is that we're in the midst of a phenomenal global gloom," he added.
By nationality, the United States still easily led the rankings with 469 billionaires up from 415 last year, but Russia replaced Germany as the second placed country with 87 billionaires.
Third-placed India saw the number of its super-rich jump to 53 entries on the list -- four of them in the top 10 -- although China and Hong Kong if taken together would overtake it, with 42 and 26 billionaires respectively.
Japan, although still the second largest economy in the world, saw its number of billionaires trailing at 24 -- overtaken by Turkey, which this year saw its number of tycoons on the list jump from 22 in 2007 to 35.
Surprisingly, Buffett and Gates were the only Americans in the top 10, alongside one Mexican (second-placed Slim) four Indians (placed fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth), a Swede (seventh), a Russian (ninth) and a German (10th.)
Among the biggest losers were Starbucks chief Howard Schultz, whose stock dragged him off the list all together, and Spanish property billionaire Enrique Banuelos, whose wealth plunged from 7.7 billion dollars in 2007 to 1.3 billion.
The average age fell by one year to 61, helped by an influx of younger Russians and Chinese, 50 of them under 40, while the number of women grew to 99, up from 87 last year, but only 10 percent of them were self-made.
The richest woman in the world was France's Liliane Bettencourt, of cosmetics company L'Oreal with a personal fortune of 22.9 billion dollars, partly helped by the weak US dollar, which has fallen notably against the euro.
"Most countries outside of the US have benefited from the currency fluctuations," said Forbes' senior editor Luisa Kroll. "It's definitely helped boost the numbers outside of the US."
The fortunes were assessed as a snapshot on February 11, meaning that places on the list had likely changed since then, owing to fluctuations on the foreign exchange and stock markets.
There was also good news for gold diggers. "There are 110 single men on the list," said Forbes. "Forty-seven women are also unhitched right now."
Copyright © 2008 Agence France Presse.