2017 has been a banner year for the world’s richest individuals.
Pumped by a tidal wave of central-bank driven liquidity and corporate buybacks, equity indexes around the world climbed to all-time highs this year – a phenomenon that has disproportionately benefited the world’s wealthiest, particularly the 500 individuals included in Bloomberg’s billionaires index.
By the end of trading Tuesday, Dec. 26, the 500 billionaires controlled an aggregate $5.3 trillion, a $1.1 trillion increase from their holdings on Dec. 27 2016.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest beneficiary of this Federal Reserve inspired rally was Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos, who added a staggering $34.2 billion to his net worth in 2017 as Amazon shares soared above $1,000.
After announcing in October that his family office had given $18 billion to his Open Society Foundations over the past several years (Masking an elaborate tax dodge under the guise of altruism), Soros slipped to No. 195 on Bloomberg’s ranking, with a net worth of $8 billion.
Bezos notably knocked Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates out of his spot as the world’s richest person in October – a position that Gates had held since May 2013. Notably, Gates has been donating much of his fortune to charity, including a $4.6 billion pledge he made the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in August. Bezos, whose net worth topped $100 billion at the end of November, currently has a net worth of $99.6 billion compared with $91.3 billion for Gates.
While China topped the US in terms of the number of billionaires last year, the tax bill that Trump signed into law last week will certainly go a long way toward helping the US reclaim the top spot.
As the chart below shows, the wealthiest Americans will receive an overwhelming share of the benefits from the Trump tax cut plan.
Meanwhile, corporations, which received a massive tax cut, will have even more money to continue buying back their shares, driving benchmark indexes ever higher and minting even more billionaires and millionaires in the process.
It's also worth noting that, while the rich are getting richer, the average life expectancy in the US declined in 2016 for the second straight year, largely a result of a spike in drug overdose deaths even as the overall rate of deaths declined.
And while it's entirely possible that the flood of free corporate cash flow unleashed by the tax cuts could buoy stocks for years to come (JP Morgan's Jamie Dimon fittingly compared the cuts to the Federal Reserve's QE program), such sharp declines in life expectancy have historically been an ominous indicator for equity returns.