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9/22/2006
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Gates Tops Forbes' Billionaire List

Nearly 20 of the top 50 richest billionaires this year are in technology, telecommunications, music, movies, or publishing, estimates Forbes.

For the first time, everyone on Forbes magazine's just-released annual list of the 400 richest Americans are worth at least $1 billion.

The collective net worth of the country's wealthiest rose $120 billion to $1.25 trillion.

Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates landed at No. 1 on the list with a net worth of $53 billion. Warren Buffett, who runs the holding company Berkshire Hathaway Inc., came in No. 2 with $46 billion.

Buffett in June agreed to donate 85 percent of his fortune, valued then at $37 billion, to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and four family charities.

Oracle Corp.'s Chief Executive Larry Ellison with $19.5 billion came in at No. 4, and another Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen with $16 billion followed at No. 5.

Even Dell Inc.'s Michael Dell, which had a rocky year, came in at No. 9 with $15.5 billion. Shares of Dell dropped 60 percent in past 12 months, putting his 9.4 million stock options underwater, Forbes said.

Moody's Economy.com economist Zoltan Pozsar attributes some increases to accumulative gain on wealth, but said globalization and mergers and acquisitions have contributed to more people becoming billionaires, rather than millionaires.

"Tech spending remains good, but not as good in 2000 before the dot-com bust because there's no killer app," Pozsar said. "For consumers, there are many new gadgets people want to buy like iPods and PlayStations, but on the capital equipment side there's not really new blockbuster capital equipment companies think they need to buy to enhance their productivity."

Pozsar said routers and other Internet equipment has been bought, for the most part. Most of the spending next year will go toward replacing old technology.

U.S. companies are forecast to spend $670 billion in 2007, up from $600 billion this year, on software and business equipment, such as computers, servers, and BlackBerry devices, estimates Moody's Economy.com.

Still, nearly 20 in the top 50 of the richest billionaires this year are in technology, telecommunications, music, movies or publishing, estimates Forbes.

"Companies in the tech sector, publishing, or anything related to music or movie downloads are in a good position because they truly tap into the global market, whereas it could take many years for manufacturers to the build plans that get them into strategic markets," Pozsar said. "Once you have a portal, you have access to the global market. If you're a Yahoo or Google and have the name recognition you don't need to cross the usual geographic and physical barriers to reach people."

Google Inc. co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page ranked respectively No. 12 and No. 13, with respective net worths of $14.1 billion and $14 billion. Fifty one year old Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt ranked No. 45 with $5.2 billion.

Apple Computer Inc.'s Steve Jobs took No. 49 with 4.9 billion, and David Geffen took No. 50 with 4.6 billion.

Two women made the top 10. Christy Walton, the daughter-in-law of top retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s founder Sam Walton, is worth $15.6 billion, ranking No. 7, while Sam Walton's daughter Alice ranked No. 9 with $15.5 billion.

Far, far away from the billionaire's club, the average income of the nation's 105.9 million full-time wage and salary workers is $34,268 annually, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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