NEW YORK — America's 400 richest people are worth $220 billion--a whopping 41% jump from last year and enough money to wipe out the 1986 U.S. budget deficit, Forbes magazine reports.
No. 1 on the list for the third year is retail king Sam M. Walton, whose assets from his Wal-Mart discount stores nearly doubled to $8.5 billion. That is more than the gross national product of many Third World countries.
Walton is one of 49 billionaires to top the list, nearly twice as many as appeared there last year. Among the 23 newcomers to billionaire ranks are a reclusive candy-bar fortune heiress, an immigrant cruise-line owner and at least nine dabblers in corporate takeovers.
Rising stock prices and real estate values played key roles in swelling the ranks and fortunes of the wealthy, the magazine says in its latest list of the 400 richest Americans. An advance copy of the article, for the Oct. 26 issue, was released Monday.
Forbes says the total net worth of the richest rich in its latest 400 list jumped to $220 billion, a 41% increase over the 1986 total of $160 billion. By comparison, the U.S. budget deficit last year was $205 billion, the U.S. trade deficit was $156 billion and the Pentagon budget was $278 billion.
Soaring Stock a Factor
The average net worth among Forbes 400 members is $550 million.
Once again, the leader is 69-year-old Walton, founder of the Wal-Mart Stores discount chain based in Bentonville, Ark., who as a youth worked for rival J. C. Penney Co. at $85 a month.
The magazine said Walton's increased wealth came almost entirely from the soaring value of Wal-Mart stock. Forbes figures that makes Walton the world's third-wealthiest person after two Japanese, Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, who the magazine estimates to be worth at least $20 billion, and Taikichiro Mori, worth $15 billion.
More than 12% of the Forbes 400 are billionaires. Japan has the next highest number of billionaires at 24.
After Walton, the Forbes top 10 include John W. Kluge, 73, German-born head of Metromedia Co., worth $3 billion; H. Ross Perot, 57, Texas investor, worth $2.9 billion; David Packard, 75, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard Co., $2.87 billion; publishing-empire brothers Samuel I. Newhouse Jr., 59, and Donald E. Newhouse, 58, each worth about $2.35 billion; industrialist Lester Crown, 62, $2.1 billion; publisher Rupert K. Murdoch, $2.1 billion; investor Warren E. Buffett, $2.1 billion; and retailer Leslie H. Wexner, $2.1 billion.
The most notable changes this year were the 23 new billionaires on the list. Among them were Jacqueline Mars Vogel, recently discovered by Forbes to be an heiress to the Mars confection company's family fortune, who is worth $1.15 billion.
Others included Budweiser brew master August A. Busch Jr., $1.3 billion, and Ted Arison, Palestine-born son of an Israeli ship owner, who built Carnival Cruise Lines and last year took it public, quadrupling his worth to $1.8 billion.
Murdoch, head of News Corp. Ltd. of Australia who is attempting to establish a fourth U.S. television network, tripled his worth in the last year, putting him in the billionaire club for the first time.
Joining him was Oklahoma-based media owner Edward Gaylord, whose holdings include Nashville's Grand Ole Opry and TV's "Hee-Haw" country comedy show, as well as newspaper and broadcast interests. His worth was pegged at $1.2 billion.
Several investors who used their money in both friendly and unfriendly takeover attempts acquired billionaire status this year. Among them were Edward J. DeBartolo, who runs the largest U.S. shopping mall developer, $1.25 billion; A. Alfred Taubman, a shopping mall owner, $1.5 billion; Carl H. Lindner, who heads a financial services conglomerate, $1 billion; Harold Simmons, a Texas-based takeover strategist, $1.15 billion; three of the four Bass family brothers, also of Texas, who together hold about $3.2 billion, and the Tisch brothers, Laurence A. and Preston R., of New York, whose holding in Loews Corp. is worth about $2 billion.
Some Bumped From List
At 31, William H. Gates won the title of youngest new billionaire. A math genius and Harvard dropout, Gates founded the Microsoft Corp. computer software company 13 years ago. His 40% stake is now worth $1.25 billion.
Other well-known members of the Forbes 400 list include Denver oilman Marvin Davis, $1.45 billion; New York real estate developer Harry Helmsley, $1.4 billion; financier David Rockefeller, $1 billion; Los Angeles investor Kirk Kerkorian, $950 million; Maryland poultry king Frank Perdue, $500 million; designer Ralph Lauren, $350 million, and entertainer Merv Griffin, $300 million.
Some familiar names on the list lost their ranking. Gordon P. Getty, No. 2 in the inaugural 1982 Forbes list and No. 1 in 1983 and 1984, no longer controls the $3-billion family trust because of lawsuits and the Texaco-Pennzoil battle over his company. Forbes estimated his worth at $350 million.
Some well-known multimillionaires were bumped altogether, either because their holdings fell sharply or others simply surpassed them. They included rock 'n' roll king Dick Clark, "Dynasty" producer Aaron Spelling, comedy hit maker Norman Lear and Apple Computer founder Steven Jobs. Also absent was disgraced stock speculator Ivan F. Boesky.
Forbes publisher Malcolm Forbes remained on the list but, as in the past, his wealth was not disclosed.
The flamboyant balloonist, motorcyclist and host of a self-proclaimed "party of the century" this year to celebrate the magazine's 70th birthday has assets estimated to be between $500 million and $1 billion. The magazine quoted him only as saying his fortune is "ahead of last year."