Led By Elon Musk’s Crazy Gains, American Billionaires Have Added Nearly $2 Trillion To Their Fortunes During The Pandemic



It’s been a rocky couple years for the public image of America’s billionaires, who have faced criticism from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers about the ultra-wealthy’s influence over public discourse and the economy, especially amid the pandemic. Their bank accounts, however, have never looked better.

On New Year’s Day 2020, before Covid-19 swept the U.S., the nation’s billionaires held a collective $3.4 trillion in wealth, according to Forbes estimates. Today, they’re worth nearly $5.3 trillion. In other words, U.S. billionaires have gotten more than $1.8 trillion richer since the pandemic began.

The massive jump in billionaire wealth comes as markets have surged. The S&P 500 is up 45% since the start of 2020, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen by 27%. The wealthiest Americans have, of course, beaten the market: they’re 56% richer over that span.

The spoils are concentrated at the top: just 20 people account for more than half of all billionaire gains.

No one has gotten richer than Elon Musk, who became the first person to ever cross the $300 billion mark earlier this week. Worth an estimated $320.3 billion, he’s an astounding $293.7 billion wealthier than he was before the pandemic began. That’s more money than Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have—combined. Shares of Tesla, the electric carmaker Musk runs, have jumped nearly 1,400% since the start of 2020, and his private spaceflight company SpaceX keeps reaching new heights too. In February, investors valued the company at $74 billion; a recent secondary share sale reportedly valued SpaceX north of $100 billion.

It’s also been a good run for Jeff Bezos, who stepped down as CEO of Amazon in July, and promptly launched himself 351,210 feet into space aboard one of his Blue Origin rockets. His fortune has climbed just as fast, as Amazon stock has soared 88% since the beginning of 2020, pushing Bezos’ net worth up by $86.2 billion, to an estimated $200.9 billion. He’s the second richest person in the world, behind Musk.

Other big gainers: Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Google’s Larry Page, who have each gotten $65.8 billion richer during the pandemic thanks to 87% and 120% rises in their companies’ share prices, respectively. Page’s cofounder, Sergey Brin, who holds a bit less stock in Google-parent Alphabet than Page, is $63.3 billion richer.

With markets on such a tear, it’s hard for billionaires not to get filthy rich(er). MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Bezos, has given more than $8.5 billion to charity since 2020. She’s still $22 billion wealthier than before she began, thanks to Amazon’s lofty stock price. Warren Buffett has made out similarly well. After two years of big annual gifts to charity—$2.9 billion in 2020 and $4.1 billion in 2021—he’s $15.2 billion richer, thanks to a 28% jump in Berkshire Hathaway shares.

Not everyone on the Forbes list has been so fortunate. More than a dozen billionaires have shed at least $1 billion in net worth since the pandemic began. Sun Hongbin, a U.S. citizen who lives in China, has lost the most. His fortune has plummeted by an estimated $7.6 billion since early 2020, as shares of his publicly traded real estate giant Sunac have tumbled 66% amid fallout from the Evergrande liquidity crisis. Another billionaire who has lost big: Micky Arison, chairman of the world’s largest cruise ship operator, Carnival Corp., whose shares have sunk more than 50% as Covid-19 took the cruise industry to a grinding halt.

Many of the other big losers hail from the real estate industry, especially those with portfolios focused on office space and brick-and-mortar stores. The most famous: Donald Trump, whose net worth has fallen from an estimated $3.1 billion before the pandemic to $2.5 billion today as his real estate empire has struggled.

Still, there’s been no shortage of moguls making ten-digit fortunes during the pandemic, including Zoom founder Eric Yuan, Bumble cofounder Whitney Wolfe Herd and four American billionaires behind Covid vaccine-maker Moderna. 

Crypto wunderkind Sam Bankman-Fried launched his FTX exchange less than a year before the pandemic began. When the 29-year-old made the cover of Forbes in early October, just 29 months later, he had amassed the second-biggest fortune before the age of 30 in history. Two weeks later he announced another massive funding round—adding billions to the value of FTX, and pushing his fortune up by $4 billion in a matter of weeks.



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