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Asia displaces Europe in billionaire count

NEW YORK, Mar 10 – The number of billionaires in Asia\’s booming new economies has displaced Europe, coming second only to the United States, Forbes said in its annual rich list Wednesday.

So powerful is the Asian boom that even Europe\’s biggest billionaire factory — Russia — owes much of its wealth to demand from tiger economies looking for raw materials.

"China really set the tone this year," said Forbes senior editor Luisa Kroll. "Asia for the first time has more billionaires than Europe."

The billionaire surge saw an increase in China from 69 to 115, Hong Kong from 25 to 36, India from 49 to 55 and across the Asia-Pacific as a whole from 234 to 332.

That easily beats Europe\’s 300 billionaires, 101 of which are Russian, including 79 living in Moscow — officially the world billionaire capital.

Kroll said the dynamics behind Asian success were booming stock markets and business-friendly governments.

European gains, led by Russia\’s commodities barons, were largely due to Asian appetite for raw materials, or luxury goods.

"It is much easier to get rich today if you go live in Shanghai. If I were 22 years old and an entrepreneur and maybe could speak Mandarin… I\’d high-tail it there," Kroll said.

Meanwhile, the United States remains the biggest billionaire magnet on the planet, with 413. But the share continues to slip every year, giving way to the Asian economic phenomenon.

A decade ago, more than half of the world\’s billionaires were US citizens, while only about a third are today.

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In the individual stakes, Mexican telecoms tycoon Carlos Slim Helu remained the world\’s richest person.

Slim, who is almost unknown to the general public outside Mexico, weighed in at a staggering $74 billion of net wealth thanks to his telecoms empire. Already the top dog last year, he increased his fortune by $20.5 billion dollars.

In a now familiar second place was Microsoft founder Bill Gates with $56 billion. The relatively lowly ranking reflected his enormous philanthropic give-aways over the year, Forbes said.

Next up was US investment guru Warren Buffett and Frenchman Bernard Arnault from the luxury goods group LVMH with $50 billion and $41 billion respectively.

Worldwide, the number of the ultra rich hit a record 1,210, up from 1,011 last year. The increase reflects economic trends, said Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of the magazine bearing his name.

"The global economy is recovering, but it\’s not spread all across the board," he said. "The list reflects the extraordinary changes taking place in the global economy."

There are "literally millions of people around the world who have the opportunity to be creative," Forbes said.

With much of the world still feeling the aftershocks of a deep recession, the annual ritual of the billionaires list can at first seem out of touch with reality.

But Forbes editors said most of the names on the list were themselves people who had made good after overcoming difficulties and failures.

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"These are people, contrary to the Hollywood myth… these are very scrappy individuals, very focused individuals," Forbes said.

Kroll said people who become billionaires need luck and determination, but also a little extra.

"They are unique people. Sometimes I think they\’re a little offbeat," she said.

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