The old adage “the rich keep getting richer” no longer holds true. The rarefied world of the extravagantly wealthy has lately come under serious assault with the billionaires club seeing its fortunes rapidly shrink in the ongoing stock market rout. About ten days ago, South China Morning Post reported that the world’s 500 richest people had collectively lost $950 billion in the stock markets since the beginning of the year.
The stock selloff has accelerated since then with the MSCI World Index–a market-cap-weighted stock market index of 1,644 stocks from companies across the globe–dropping another 320 points, or about 15 percent of its value. This implies losses by the billionaires have likely now crossed the $1 trillion mark.
It also means the world now has only one centibillionaire, Jeff Bezos, after Bill Gates and the club’s latest entrant, Bernard Arnault, saw their fortunes slip below the $100-billion mark. Arnault, chairman of French luxury goods titan LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE, became the world’s third centibillionaire after LVMH stock climbed nearly 40 percent in 2019. LVMH is down 27.7 percent in the year-to-date.
Warren Buffett was the biggest victim of the rout, with the Oracle of Omaha seeing his net worth drop by $9.6 billion to $66.4 billion after Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A) Class A shares dropped 8.6 percent on Wednesday alone. BRK.A shares are down a whopping 25 percent in the year-to-date with the vehicle’s top holdings Delta Airlines (NYSE:DAL) and American Airlines (NYSE:AAL) down 63.5 percent and 63.8 percent YTD, respectively.
Airline stocks have been particularly badly hit as governments everywhere urge citizens to keep travelling to a minimum while others have placed an outright ban on international travel. Many large U.S. airlines spent most of their free cash flow on share buybacks over the past decade in a bid to goose their earnings even as profits soared. Unfortunately, this left them exposed with many facing bankruptcy in lieu of a government bailout.
Facebook Inc.’s (NASDAQ:FB) Mark Zuckerberg has taken a $6.8 billion hit in the stock markets, after FB stock dipped 27.1 percent YTD on concerns about lower ad revenues from retail, travel and recreation clients.
Zuckerberg’s net worth has now shrunk to $55.7 billion though he seems to be taking it on the chin after Facebook announced a $100 million grant for small businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
After a bright start to the year, Microsoft Inc.(NASDAQ:MSFT) has not been spared the latest bloodbath with the stock dropping nearly 14 percent over the past week and taking down Bill Gates’ and Steve Ballmer’s net worth $6.6 billion and $5.7 billion, respectively.
Gates’ net worth of $96.3 billion still places him as the world’s second-richest person, a position he had previously ceded to Bernard Arnault. Meanwhile, Arnault’s riches have shrunk to $80.7 billion after LVMH’s poor stock performance.
Amazon Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) relatively tame -0.14 percent YTD return means that Jeff Bezos has lost far less than most of his super-rich peers, with his net worth estimated at $113.9 billion.
Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ:TSLA) CEO, Elon Musk, however, has not been so lucky.
After previously dismissing the coronavirus panic as “dumb,” Musk has been forced to eat humble pie after Tesla was deemed “not an essential business” by the sheriff’s department and forced to close both its Fremont, California, and Buffalo, New York, factory factories where it assembles EVs.
Musk, however, has pledged to make ventilators if there was a shortage, joining GM and Ford. The Trump administration has already handed the three automakers the green-light to make ventilators and other metal products. Whereas retooling an auto assembly line could be a tough call, the auto companies do have 3D printers for components; Tyvek suits used in paint shops that could be repurposed as well as “clean rooms” in other plants that could meet FDA standards.
Market in Tailspin
The US stock market has gone into a tailspin over the past two weeks as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc everywhere with three states locking down more than 70 million people.
Meanwhile, a much-anticipated government bailout failed to materialize after the senate failed to advance a third economic stimulus package meant to help the American economy weather the coronavirus pandemic. Hot on the heels of passing an $8.5 billion bill, congressional lawmakers proposed yet another coronavirus “rescue” package dubbed The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) with a running price tag of $1.5 to $2 trillion.
Although the bill passed with overwhelming support in the House of Representatives, the Senate was unable to vote because several Republican senators are currently self-quarantining. Senator Rand Paul has already tested positive for the disease while another four senators have self-quarantined after possible exposure.
Any further delays in passing the bill could mean an extended stocks selloff–and more misery for the billionaires.