All the pundits who preach an economic recovery in the US always fall strangely silent when asked to share their thoughts on the following chart (taken from the St. Louis Fed), showing the annual change in real disposable income per capita in the US. What seems to stump them most is that aside from the 2012 year end aberration (due to accelerated distribution of dividends ahead of the 2013 tax hikes) is that in November the series finally posted its first Y/Y decline (-0.1%) since the Lehman collapse.
But as the chart notes, the data is "per capita" and as everyone knows, under the New Normal, some "per capitas" are more equal than other "per capitas." Enter the billionaires. As Bloomberg summarizes, "The richest people on the planet got even richer in 2013, adding $524 billion to their collective net worth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world’s 300 wealthiest individuals. The aggregate net worth of the world’s top billionaires stood at $3.7 trillion at the market close on Dec. 31, according to the ranking. The biggest gains came in the technology industry, which soared 28 percent during the year. Of the 300 people who appeared on the final ranking of 2013, only 70 registered a net loss for the 12-month period."
Will this trend change any time? Not if the world's wealthiest have anything to say about it:
"The rich will keep getting richer in 2014," John Catsimatidis, the billionaire founder of real estate and energy conglomerate Red Apple Group Inc., said in a telephone interview from his New York office. “Interest rates will remain low, equity markets will keep rising, and the economy will grow at less than 2 percent.”
Who were the biggest winners of 2013? In top spot was...
Bill Gates, the founder and chairman of Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft Corp., was the year’s biggest gainer. The 58-year-old tycoon’s fortune increased by $15.8 billion to $78.5 billion, according to the index, as shares of Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker, rose 40 percent. Gates recaptured the title of world’s richest person on May 16 from Mexican investor Carlos Slim. Gates’s fortune has also benefited from a rally in stock holdings that include the Canadian National Railway Co. and sanitizing-products maker Ecolab Inc., which rose 34 percent and 45 percent respectively.
Breathing down his neck was Sheldon Adelson, founder of Las Vegas Sands, the world's largest casino company. The outspoken GOP supporter was the second-biggest gainer in 2013, adding $14.4 billion to his net worth as the company’s shares rose 71 percent. "Macau’s gross gaming revenue is expected to grow 17 percent to $44.5 billion in 2013 from a record $38 billion in 2012, according to Deutsche Bank AG analyst Karen Tang in Hong Kong. Las Vegas Sands had revenue of $13.2 billion in the 12 months ending Sept. 30. More than 58 percent of its sales come from Macau."
In 2013 Latin America was a hotbed of wealth transfer creation, after the investment arm of Jorge Paulo Lemann, Latin America’s second-richest person and Brazil’s wealthiest, 3G Capital completed its $29 billion acquisition of Pittsburgh-based HJ Heinz Co. in June, a transaction done with Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. With his two partners, the Brazilian billionaire, a former professional tennis player, manages three iconic American brands: Burger King, Budweiser beer and Heinz ketchup.
Latin America’s third-wealthiest person is Colombian Luis Carlos Sarmiento, who controls more than a quarter of the country’s financial industry through four publicly traded banks that form Bogota-based Grupo Aval. His net worth fell 7.4 percent to $16.7 billion, according to the Bloomberg ranking.
Not all billionaires were winners in 2013: Mexico's Carlos Slim, until recently the world's richest man lost $1.4 billion during 2013. The reason: "his America Movil SAB, the largest mobile-phone operator in the Americas, dropped 12 percent in the first three months of the year after Mexico’s Congress passed a bill to quash the billionaire’s market dominance. The company finished the year up 2 percent after a planned expansion into Europe was reined in, reassuring investors who were leery about the billions of dollars in investment the strategy would require."
Nobody lost more, however, than Brazil's Eike Batista. His net worth declined more than $12 billion during the year. "OGX Petroleo & Gas Participacoes SA, the oil company that transformed him into Brazil’s richest man, filed for bankruptcy protection in October. Batista was the world’s eighth-richest person in March 2012, and now has a negative net worth, according to the Bloomberg ranking. “His loss of credibility is explained by not delivering on the results promised when he listed his companies,” Elad Revi, an investment analyst at Spinelli SA, said by telephone in a July 26 interview from Sao Paulo. “There was a chain reaction: he lost credibility in one, then he lost it in all of them."
Tracking the fortunes of some other billionaires from Bloomberg:
John “Johnny” Morris became a billionaire by stitching together shopping outlets for multiple outdoor sports and adding a touch of entertainment to the mix. Since founding Bass Pro Shops LLC in 1972 in his father’s liquor store in Springfield, Missouri, Morris has expanded to at least 58 superstores, with 20 more planned. The company makes a variety of fishing boats and house-apparel brands, and controls a chain of full-service restaurants inside the stores.
Stephen Orenstein, 50, made his fortune in more hostile environs. As the majority owner of Supreme Group BV, Orenstein has overseen the delivery of food and fuel to some of the most inhospitable parts of the world, including Liberia, Mali and Sudan. His biggest business has been supplying military personnel in Afghanistan, where contractors dodge bullets fired by the Taliban and explosives set by insurgents.
Shutterstock Inc. founder Jonathan Oringer rode a 222 percent surge in his company’s stock to become the first billionaire to emerge from Silicon Alley, a collection of technology startups in New York. The 39-year-old founded Shutterstock in 2003 with 30,000 of his own pictures and turned it into the world’s largest stock photo and video marketplace. He has net worth of $1.5 billion.
C. James “Jim” Koch popularized craft beer in the U.S. and transformed Boston Beer Co. into the second-largest American-owned brewery. It also made him a billionaire, as frothy sales of his flagship Samuel Adams brand helped Boston Beer stock rally 80 percent in the past year.
Jonathan Gray, the 43-year-old who runs Blackstone Group LP’s real estate business, became a billionaire when shares of the New York-based private-equity firm surged in May. Blackstone stock doubled last year as the company sold assets and returned money to private and public shareholders. Gray has a fortune valued at $1.4 billion.
Elon Musk’s net worth had the biggest percentage gain by a self-made billionaire, surging 233 percent during the year. Musk’s Tesla Motors Inc., the electric-car maker being reviewed by U.S. regulators over battery-related fires, more than quadrupled, helping the billionaire add $5.6 billion to his fortune.
Mark Zuckerberg was technology’s biggest dollar gainer, adding $12.4 billion to his net worth as Facebook Inc. shares more than doubled. The chief executive officer of the world’s largest social-networking company sold more than $2 billion in stock last month and donated another $1 billion to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.
The fortunes of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google Inc., surged about $10 billion each as the world’s largest search-engine business rose 58 percent.
Carl Icahn spent much of the year jousting with other billionaires while adding $7 billion to his net worth. The 77-year-old financier battled with short-seller Bill Ackman over Herbalife Ltd., and tried to snatch Dell Inc. from founder Michael Dell during his failed attempt to take the company private. He also took bond maven Bill Gross to task in a fight played out on Twitter, demanding the billionaire join him in committing to the Giving Pledge, which encourages the world’s richest to give the majority of their wealth to charity.
Henry Kravis’s fortune rose about $740 million this year. KKR & Co., the private-equity firm he founded with his cousin George Roberts, said in December that it raised $1.5 billion for its first real estate fund, with most of the money to be spent in North America and as much as a quarter of it in western Europe.
Li Ka-Shing remains Asia’s richest man with a fortune of $30.2 billion. The 85-year-old controls the Cheung Kong Holdings Ltd. property investment company and conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa Ltd.
The biggest gainer in Asia was Macau casino mogul Lui Che Woo, who added $14.2 billion to his net worth. Lui’s Hong Kong-listed Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd. has one of six gambling licenses in the Chinese enclave. The company is the second-largest by revenue and controls almost 20 percent of the city’s casino market.
The title for China’s richest person changed hands twice during the year. Beverage billionaire Zong Qinghou was eclipsed in August by Dalian Wanda Group property and entertainment mogul Wang Jianlin after regulatory filings showed Wang’s non-real estate businesses are more valuable than previously calculated.
Robin Li, founder of Beijing-based Baidu Inc., dethroned Wang in December. China’s most-used search engine rallied 77 percent in 2013. The crown could change again. The country’s top four billionaires all have fortunes of $12 billion or more.
Amancio Ortega held on to his title as Europe’s richest person. Inditex SA, the world’s largest clothing retailer, rose 14 percent during the year. The billionaire bought an office building in London’s West End for 410 million pounds ($679 million), a person with knowledge of the matter said.
Why are these people relevant? Because as we showed in November, the world's 2170 billionaires control a total of $33 trillion in Net Worth, roughly double the US GDP and about half of the world's entire GDP.
The bottom line from Weatlh X: "factoring in all of the connections between the world’s billionaires, this equates to a total social circle worth a combined US$33 trillion" or double the GDP of the US. The estimated "circle of influence" among the friends of just the US' richest is shown below.
The take home message is simple: while the New Normal is negative for everyone else, the rich are indeed getting richer. This status quo regime will continue until such time as the world's poor realize their welfare state hosts are insolvent and overthrow a broken system, leading to a long-overdue systemic reset which almost took place in late 2008, but was deferred with a last ditch (and ongoing) effort by all of the world's central banks (as even JPM showed yesterday) to boost the wealth of the wealthiest with the biggest asset reflation experiment in history. The question of who will bail out the bail-outers when this, too, grand experiment in central planning fails, remains unanswered.