Power Players

US billionaires boost collective wealth by $406 billion as markets rebound in the coronavirus pandemic, report finds

Jeff Bezos, CEO, Amazon
Mark Ralston | AFP | Getty Images

Billionaires in the U.S. have seen their wealth increase by over $406 billion in the past month despite the ongoing economic effect of the coronavirus crisis, research has found. 

The Institute for Policy Studies, the progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C., said that this worked out to an increase of nearly 14% between March 18 and April 29. This was during the same period as when around 30 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits as a result of the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but also when stock markets rebounded as global governments stepped in with massive stimulus packages.

Between March 18 and April 29, the S&P 500 jumped nearly 23%. 

There have been more than 3 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus globally and more than 200,000 deaths from the virus, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. 

The institute calculated the updated findings, originally published in its "Billionaire Bonanza 2020" report last week, by analyzing data from the Bloomberg and Forbes individual billionaire indexes. 

Forbes' annual list of the world's richest people found that the wealth of billionaires in the U.S. declined slightly in the year to March 18 2020, down to $2.9 trillion from $3.1 trillion in 2019, partly due to the pandemic but the daily rankings showed their wealth quickly rebounded in the six weeks following.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who is recognized as the richest man in world with Forbes estimating his net worth at $145 billion, has seen his wealth surge during the pandemic. Demand for online retail has risen during the coronavirus lockdown and Amazon has said it's hiring 75,000 more workers

Since the beginning of the year, his wealth has increased by $32 billion, despite it falling to $105 billion on "Black Thursday" on March 12, when markets suffered their sharpest falls since 1987. 

Since February 21, when markets more broadly started to sink, Amazon's share price has risen by around 16% based on what it closed on in the previous session. 

MacKenzie Bezos, the ex-wife of the Amazon founder, has seen her wealth increase by over $10 billion since the beginning of the year to April 24, thanks to her ownership of a 4% stake in the e-commerce giant. However, just before the couple's divorce was finalized last year, she signed the "Giving Pledge," committing to give away at least half her wealth over her lifetime or in her will.

Other billionaires who have seen their wealth grow amid the pandemic include Tesla CEO Elon Musk — also by nearly $10 billion since January 1. In that time, Zoom founder Eric Yuan has added $3.5 billion to his net worth at $7.4 billion, thanks to the popularity of his videoconferencing software in lockdown. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has added more than $4 billion to his fortune.

Going back further, IPS said that in 1990, there were 66 billionaires in the U.S. who held a total wealth of $118.8 billion. The United States now has 630 billionaires, whose wealth totaled nearly $3.4 trillion, as of April 29.

Meanwhile, the 400 richest Americans, according to the Forbes rankings, have as much combined wealth as the poorest 64% of American households, the report highlighted. 

The report's authors recommended an additional tax of 10% on the income of the top 0.1% of households, including on capital income. 

They also suggested strengthening the estate tax to limit intergenerational transfers of wealth, as well as a "wealth tax" that limits the further accumulation of money.

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