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Jun 18, 2019

The world now has three people worth more than US$100 billion each

Bernard Arnault. Bloomberg/Marlene Awaad

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Bernard Arnault, Europe’s richest person, just joined Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates in the world’s most exclusive wealth club with a fortune of at least US$100 billion.

Arnault, chairman of LVMH, entered the ranks of centibillionaires Tuesday as the luxury-goods maker climbed 2.9 per cent to a record 368.80 euros a share. His net worth has increased almost US$32 billion this year, the most on the 500-member Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

France’s multibillionaires have added the most wealth among European members of Bloomberg’s ranking in 2019, with Arnault, Kering SA’s Francois Pinault and cosmetics heir Francoise Bettencourt Meyers tacking on more than US$40 billion between them. Meanwhile, the brothers behind the Chanel brand, Gerard and Alain Wertheimer, saw their fortunes soar US$9.8 billion this week after the Parisian fragrance and fashion house reported its 2018 results.

Arnault’s fortune of US$100.4 billion now equals more than three per cent of France’s economy, underscoring the wealth gap in his native country, where protesters have agitated this year for more benefits paid for by the rich. Even amid growing trade tensions, Chinese consumers’ appetite for Louis Vuitton handbags and Hennessy cognac has bolstered results for LVMH, the owner of Dom Perignon Champagne and Tag Heuer watches. The company’s shares have surged 43 per cent this year, the third-best performer on France’s CAC 40 Index.

Arnault, 70, and his family are among luxury tycoons who pledged more than US$650 million in April for the reconstruction of Notre Dame Cathedral after the landmark church was ravaged by fire. He controls about half of Paris-based LVMH through a family holding company and also owns a 97 per cent stake in Christian Dior, the fashion house founded three years before his birth in 1949.

Arnault entered the luxury-goods market by acquiring a textile group that owned Christian Dior. He sold all of the company’s other businesses and used the proceeds to buy a controlling stake in LVMH in 1988.

Gates, the Microsoft Corp. (MSFT.O) co-founder, has donated more than US$35 billion to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Amazon.com Inc.’s (AMZN.O) Bezos, meanwhile, saw his net worth drop $40 billion earlier this year after reaching a divorce settlement with MacKenzie Bezos.