AP Business Writer

By: Madlen Read


          NEW YORK — Thanks to a surge in demand for steel, the Internet and Scandinavian sofas, there are some new names among the very richest of the world’s billionaires. Indian steel mogul Lakshmi Mittal, Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Slim Helu and Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad of Sweden knocked several Wal-Mart heirs down a few notches on Forbes magazines 2005 rankings of the world’s billionaires.

The billionaires are richer and more numerous for the second straight year, but the No. 1 spot is unchanged — Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates led the list for the11th year in a row with a net worth of $46.5 billion, slightly less than his $46.6 billion last year.

Investor Warren Buffett held a close second with $44 billion, up from $42.9 billion in 2004. There were 87 Californians on the list, led by Oracle Corp.’s Lawrence Ellison, who moved up from 12th to ninth in the past year at $18.4 billion. Among the other big winners were Google Inc.’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who made their first list appearance last year with $1 billion each. The tech moguls jumped nearly 500 spots this year to No. 55, their net worth multiplying to $7.2 billion after the company’s initial public offering in August.

At 31 and 32 years of age, Brin and Page are two of only 29 billionaire under 40 — the average age of billionaires this year was 64 — but youngest billionaire crown went to Germany’s 21-year-old Albert von Thurn and Taxis, with $2 billion. Mittal — the biggest dollar gainer after quadrupling his net worth by $18.8 billion to $25 billion — climbed 59 rungs from last year to No. 3 in 2005. Helu came in fourth, up from No. 17 in 2004; Saudi Arabian investor Prince Alwaleed Bin Ta1a1 Alsaud ranked No. 5; and Ikea’s Kamprad rose to No. 6 from No. 13 last year. Rounding out the top 10 were Microsoft’s Paul Allen, German supermarket company owner Karl Albrecht, Ellison and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s S. Robson Walton.    Four other Waltons took spots 11 through 13, with Alice and Helen Walton once again sharing the title of richest woman in the world with $18 billion each. The five family members of the late Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton are together worth over $90 billion.

The number of billionaires grew to a record 691 from 587 last year, and their total net worth rose by $300 billion to $2.2 trillion. A confluence of factors con tributed to the increase, said Forbes associate editor Luisa Kroll, including positive performance by many stock markets around the world — for example, in Ukraine and Iceland, countries that debuted on the list along with Kazakhstan and Poland — and the falling dollar.

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