By Anna Smolchenko –
MOSCOW — Russia’s billionaires nearly doubled their fortunes over the last year on the back of sky-high commodity prices, according to Forbes magazine’s annual list of the world’s richest people.
The combined net worth of the country’s billionaires shot up from $90.6 billion in 2005 to $172.1 billion in 2006, Forbes said. The new list, published Friday, includes 33 Russians, including seven newcomers. Twelve Russians are in the world’s top 100 — up from five last year.
“This is just a phenomenal gain,” said Luisa Kroll, the Forbes associate editor in charge of compiling the list, to which 30 reporters in seven countries contributed. “It puts Russia ahead of a country like India,” she said Friday by telephone from New York.
Russia has the third most billionaires of any country worldwide, according to the list. No. 1 is the United States, followed by Germany. Moscow, with 25 resident billionaires, is topped only by New York, with 40.
Topping the Forbes list for the 12th straight year is Bill Gates, with an estimated $50 billion. The 793 billionaires on the list — 102 more than last year — have a combined wealth of $2.6 trillion, an increase of 18 percent.
Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club, retained his position as the richest Russian, jumping 10 places to become the world’s 11th-richest person. His fortune is estimated to be worth $18.2 billion, up from last year’s $13.3 billion.
“He cashed out. A lot of it is cash,” Kroll said.
Last year, Gazprom bought 72.6 percent of Sibneft from Abramovich’s Millhouse Capital holding in a $13 billion deal.
While Abramovich’s fortune soared, so did those of his nearest Russian competitors, the ranking shows. The top 10 Russians all have oil or metals interests, or both.
LUKoil president Vagit Alekperov’s fortune jumped from $4.3 billion to $11 billion, making him the country’s second-richest man as he overtook steel magnate Vladimir Lisin and Alfa Group’s Mikhail Fridman.
In the world ranking, Alekperov is now No. 37, up from 122nd last year. LUKoil’s market cap has roughly doubled to $61.5 billion over the past year.
Most of the Russian billionaires on the list have seen their fortunes grow dramatically in the past year, benefiting in large part from strong gains in commodities prices.
“Russia is doing very well, and the fortunes of those who invested last year almost doubled,” said Peter Westin, chief economist at MDM Bank.
“All the commodities that Russia produces are now very expensive,” said Kirill Vishnepolsky, deputy director of Forbes’ Russian edition, which helped compile the list.
The list also saw growth in fortunes held in Brazil, India and China — Russia’s closest emerging-market rivals — with India producing 10 new billionaires, more than any other country apart from the United States, and China eight, Forbes said.
Increases on Russian stock markets, like those in other leading emerging-market countries, fueled much of the Forbes list growth.
The RTS grew 108 percent in the year ending Feb. 13, ahead of India’s stock market, which grew 54 percent, and Brazil’s, which saw growth of 38 percent, Forbes said. In contrast, China’s stock market grew by 3 percent, and U.S. markets by just 1 percent, Forbes said. The dollar-denominated RTS index and the ruble-priced MICEX both burst through the 1,000-point barrier in the second half of 2005.
Viktor Vekselberg, chairman of the Renova holding, moved up a notch to fourth-richest Russian, doubling his fortune to $10 billion, Forbes said.
Meanwhile, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, vanished from the list altogether, after tumbling to No. 292 last year. Serving out an eight-year prison sentence after being convicted of fraud and tax evasion, he is now worth less than $500 million, Forbes said.
The most notable Russian newcomer on the Forbes global list is Suleiman Kerimov, a Dagestani-born State Duma deputy who clocked in at $7.1 billion, becoming Russia’s eighth-richest man.
A member of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party, the intensely secretive Kerimov is thought to control Nafta-Moskva, a successor to the Soviet oil trader Soyuznefteexport, and has built up his wealth investing in Gazprom and Sberbank. Last year, Kerimov reportedly bought Polimetall, one of the country’s largest gold and silver miners.
Kerimov was listed on Forbes Russia’s 2005 rich list as being worth $2.6 billion.
As a Duma deputy, Kerimov is not supposed to conduct business. A spokeswoman for Nafta-Moskva said Friday that she had never heard of Kerimov.
“He is an exceptionally fortunate investor,” Forbes Russia’s Vishnepolsky said.
Another new name on the Forbes list is Rustam Tariko, a vodka magnate and owner of Russky Standart bank, with a fortune of $1.9 billion.
Forbes ran a separate profile of Tariko, 44. He “came out of nowhere to build a fortune by turning middle-class Russians into debt-addicted consumers,” his Forbes profile said.
Dmitry Rybolovlev, board chairman of Uralkali, a producer of potassium fertilizers in the Urals, also broke into this year’s list, cashing in on a global demand for potassium fertilizers, Forbes said. He ranks 32nd in Russia with $1.6 billion.
Other newcomers are Pyotr Aven, Alfa Bank president ($3 billion); Leonid Mikhelson, chief executive of independent gas producer Novatek ($2.5 billion); Alexander Frolov, board chairman of No. 1 steelmaker Evraz Group ($2.3 billion); and Vasily Anisimov, a metals magnate and chairman of Coalco, a New York-based real estate firm ($1.3 billion).
While the rich are reaping the rewards of booming commodity prices, their bigger fortunes could theoretically bring benefits to other sections of the population, said Vladimir Pantyushin, chief economist at Renaissance Capital.
Source: St. Petersburg Times