HWe were already by far the richest person in the world, but the founder of Amazon Jeff Bezos set a new record by increasing his fortune by an additional $13bn (£10bn) in a single day to take his personal wealth to an unprecedented $189bn.
Bezos’ huge increase in wealth on Monday is equivalent to adding nearly 30 times the Queen’s £350million fortune. His total wealth is now worth him more than Britain’s biggest company, pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, which is valued on the stock exchange at £121billion.
Bezos’ fortunes have been inflated by Amazon’s soaring share price as hundreds of millions of people trapped at home by coronavirus lockdowns around the world turn to the online delivery giant for food and entertainment.
While many businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic and the beginnings of what threatens to be the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, Amazon shares have risen 70% since the start of the year. On Monday alone, the stock price rose 8% to a record high of $3,197. (Tuesday noon, they were changing hands slightly below that peak.)
Bezos, who started Amazon in his garage in 1994 still owns 11% of the company’s shares, along with space travel company Blue Origin and the Washington Post. Since January, Bezos’ wealth has increased by $74 billion.
Oxfam, the global development charity, said it was “really shocking” that Bezos had managed to make so much money during the coronavirus crisis, which has forced hundreds of millions around the world to rely on food banks and government support.
“It’s hard to reconcile this obscene figure with the reality we all live in,” said Rebecca Gowland, Oxfam’s inequality policy and campaign manager. “At a time when hardship is rife, hunger is on the rise and half a billion more people risk being pushed into extreme poverty, it is truly shocking that an already extremely wealthy individual has already pocketed £74 billion. extra dollars this year.”
Gowland said it showed that global economic policies are “not fit for purpose” and “allow the super-rich to hoard vast amounts of money at the expense of the rest of us when that money is desperately necessary for health care and social safety nets”.
Bezos’ $189 billion fortune, as estimated by Bloomberg Billionaires Indexmeans he is personally worth more than companies like Exxon Mobil, Nike or McDonald’s.
In the UK, Bezos has more than enough money to buy the big four banks – HSBC, Barclays, RBS and Lloyds – and there is enough change left over to pick up British Airways owner IAG, as well as Sainsbury’s and Marks & spencer.
He has so much money that his fortune now eclipses the GDP of Hungary, Ukraine and Qatar. And it is on the verge of overtaking Greece and New Zealand which are classified by the World Bank as the 51st and 52nd largest economies in the world.
John Teahan, portfolio manager of investment fund RWC Partners Equity Income, said Amazon’s runaway share price should make it “a candidate for the eighth wonder of the world”. Teahan said Amazon shares have returned 199.908% since their IPO in 1997. “It’s a human creation that has so far defied the laws of finance,” he said. added.
The $13 billion increase Bezos made on Monday is the biggest single-day jump in anyone’s net worth since Bloomberg began tracking the daily changes in fortune of the world’s wealthiest people in 2012.
Bezos is now $71 billion richer than the richest person on the list: Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
Gates, who was the richest person in the world until Bezos surpassed him, and his wife Melinda have given more than $50 billion to charitable causes, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, according to the Chronicle of philanthropy.
The founder of Microsoft has promised to spend billions to fight the coronavirus. “It will be a few billion dollars that we will waste in the manufacture [vaccines] who are not chosen because something else is better,” he said. “But a few billions in this situation, the situation that we find ourselves in, where there are trillions of dollars … lost economically, it’s worth it.”
Bezos has donated $100 million to a food bank charity to help Americans struggling with the economic fallout from the pandemic. Amazon is also injecting $25 million into a “Amazon Relief Fund” to support delivery drivers and “seasonal employees in financial difficulty”.
Critics have pointed out that Bezos’ $100 million donation represents 0.05% of his fortune.
Bezos is unique among the five richest people in the world as the only one not to have signed the Make a donationa philanthropic initiative created by Gates and investor Warren Buffett to encourage the world’s wealthiest people to pledge to donate at least half of their wealth to charity.
Bezos gave $2 billion, or just over 1% of his wealth, to the Bezos Day One Fund to fight homelessness and improve the education of children from low-income families.
Oxfam has called for a windfall tax on huge profits made during the pandemic to help pay for recovery from the economic destruction caused by the coronavirus.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed deep inequalities and massive failures in our economic system, leaving tens of millions of people in the United States jobless, devastating public services, and bankrupting countless small businesses,” said Oxfam’s Irit Tamir.
“Yet at the same time, through a combination of government assistance and sheer luck, a handful of companies are profiting and enriching already wealthy shareholders even further.”
Bezos would have been even richer had he not been forced to give his ex-wife MacKenzie 25% of his Amazon stock when they divorced last year. The Amazon stock price boom boosted her fortune by $4.6 billion on Monday and she is now the 13th richest person in the world.
MacKenzie signed the Giving Pledge saying she had “a disproportionate amount of money to share” and promised to work hard to give it away “until the safe is empty”.