Jeff Bezos passed Forbes‘ list of billionaires of the last four years. This year there is a new number one.
nearly four years of Jeff Bezos leading Forbes’ annual list of the world’s billionaires, there is a new number one: Elon Musk. Forbes estimates that Musk, 50, CEO of electric car company Tesla and rocket company SpaceX, is worth $219 billion, $48 billion more than Bezos, who comes in second. Even after selling billions of dollars worth of Tesla stock late last year and owing taxes on the gains from those sales, Musk is estimated to be $68 billion more than a year ago. (For the 2022 list, Forbes net values calculated using stock prices and exchange rates as of March 11, 2022.)
Bezos’ stint as the world’s richest person was short-lived compared to that of his predecessor, Microsoft’s Bill Gates. Gates held the top spot for almost five years from 1995 to 2017 – Warren Buffet stole the show for a year with savvy bets during the 2008 financial crisis, and Mexican telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim Helu tied the four years of Bezos from 2010 to 2013.
It also took Bezos twice as long as Musk to climb the rankings. After taking Amazon public in May 1997, Bezos debuted on the list in 1998 with a fortune of $1.6 billion. Musk’s first appearance on Forbes’ The list of billionaires was in 2012, with a net worth of $2 billion.
Two years after its electric car maker went public in 2010, it looked like an IPO of its rocket producer was also imminent. But a decade later, SpaceX remains a private company, with shares trading in the secondary market at a valuation north of $100 billion last October, down from $74 billion in February. And while Bezos may have personally left Earth before him (Musk still hasn’t flown into space), Musk’s aerospace company launched the world’s first all-civilian crew into orbit last fall.
But Musk owes his status as the world’s richest person to Tesla’s soaring (and volatile) stock price. He owns around 21% of the company but has pledged more than half of his stake as collateral for loans. Forbes estimates its vested stock and options were worth $183 billion as of March 11, even after discounting its stake to account for the loans.
While Musk was on Forbes’ list of the world’s billionaires for a decade, his net worth has really taken off in the past couple of years.
When Forbes finalized its 2020 World’s Billionaires list on March 18, 2020, Tesla’s stock price stood at $72.24 per share. Musk ranked 31st in the world, with a net worth of $24.6 billion ($88.4 billion behind Bezos). A year later, Musk was only $26 billion ahead of Bezos after Tesla’s share price soared more than eightfold, boosting Musk’s fortune by $126 billion, setting the record for biggest one-year gain of any billionaire. Forbes never followed.
Already criticized by some analysts and investors (as well as Musk himself) for being too overpriced, Tesla shares continued to climb, gaining another 33% last year, despite widespread automotive chip shortages (Tesla produces its chips in-house with a new material technology called silicon carbide which reduces dependence on pure silicon), tighter regulation of Chinese user data which the company uses to refine its self-driving systems (Tesla has set up a new data center in the country to store this information locally) and the recall of more than 475,000 vehicles in December 2021 due to two safety issues and more than 285,000 of its cars in China in June 2021.
In late September 2021, as Tesla shares soared, Musk overtook Bezos to become the richest person in the world – and the third (after Bernard Arnault and Bezos) to be worth at least $200 billion. “I’m sending a giant statue of the number ‘2’ to Jeffrey B., along with a silver medal,” Musk wrote in a short email to Forbes when reached for comment.
As Tesla shares continued to climb, Musk briefly became the first (and second) person to be worth $300 billion or more as Tesla’s market capitalization topped $1 trillion not a but twice – in November 2021 after car rental giant Hertz announced it was buying 100,000 Teslas for $4.2 billion and again in January when Tesla beat analyst forecasts for 2021 deliveries.
The stock’s volatility can be partly attributed to Musk’s generally erratic behavior on Twitter, where he recently challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin in single combat after SpaceX began sending telecommunications equipment to Ukraine.
After polling his supporters in November, Musk unloaded more than $16 billion worth of the electric vehicle maker’s stock over two months, which likely resulted in (as Musk claimed after Senator Elizabeth Warren accused him of getting ‘free everyone’) in the biggest tax bill in a year for an individual (and reportedly prompted a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation of him and his brother Kimbal for insider trading). He had previously only sold Tesla shares twice, in 2010 and 2016. Tesla shares peaked at $1,229.91 each on November 4, two days before Musk’s Twitter poll. By Forbes’ As of March 11 measurement, Tesla shares had fallen 35% to $795.35.
Even with all the noise, the 12 months since Forbes’ The 2021 billionaires list was undoubtedly stellar for Tesla, with its shares up a third while the rest of the tech-heavy Nasdaq (including Bezos’ Amazon) fell slightly below March 2021 levels.
No one can guess what the next year will bring for Musk – analysts’ average price target of $949.22 per share for Tesla is in a wide range of $250 to $1,480 per share. But EVs aren’t going away any time soon, and Tesla retains its first-mover advantage.
“We are really witnessing a [electric vehicle] the arms race is unfolding,” says Dan Ives, managing director and senior equity analyst at Wedbush. “Tesla is years ahead, from a battery technology standpoint…but there is a goal on Tesla’s back.”
Musk has at least one more big payday coming up. Of the 127.7 million Tesla options granted to him over the past decade, 19.5 million remain unvested, worth $14.3 billion as of March 11 (not included in Forbes’ estimated net worth because they haven’t acquired yet). But all of those options could vest as early as April, if the company hits certain performance milestones.
While most of Musk’s wealth would still remain tied to Tesla’s stock price, he tweeted in December that he was “thinking about quitting [his] jobs and become a full-time influencer. Tesla stock rose again the next day.
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