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Spain’s Amancio Ortega makes biggest strides among billionaires

Fashion retail magnate saw his wealth jump by 16.7 billion euros last year

Amancio Ortega, the founder and leading shareholder of Galician-based global fashion retailer Inditex, was the billionaire who most increased his fortune last year, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index.

As a result, the 76-year-old Ortega, who is known for eschewing the limelight, took over from legendary US investor Warren Buffet as the world’s third-richest person.

Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index, which ranks the world’s 100 wealthiest individuals, showed that Ortega’s fortune last year increased by $22 billion (16.7 billion euros), or 38.6 percent, to $57.5 billion (43.3 billion euros).

The main reason behind the increase in his wealth was the strong performance of Inditex in the stock market last year. The share price of the world’s largest fashion retailer climbed 72.4 percent in 2012, making it the company with the largest market capitalization in Spain at 65.7 billion euros.

In contrast, the blue chip Ibex 35 index ended the year down 4.66 percent, the only major international index to close in the red in 2012.

Ortega, who handed over the reins of the company to Pablo Isla in the summer of 2011, holds a 59-percent stake in Inditex.

Inditex’s earnings increased as a result of its strong expansion overseas, particularly in Asia, which helped offset the weakness of its domestic market and other parts of Europe. The group has over 6,000 stores across the globe under a series of brands that include Zara, Massimo Dutti and Pull & Bear.

In the first nine months of its financial year to end-October 2012, Inditex saw its sales climb by 17 percent to 11.362 billion euros, while its net profit increased 27 percent to 1.655 billion.

Inditex’s share price continues to prosper and Microsoft’s remains at a standstill, Ortega could overtake Bill Gates as the second-richest person in the world this year. The 57-year-old Gates’s fortune rose by only 2.9 percent last year to $62.7 billion (47.3 billion euros).

However, analysts question whether Inditex will be able to repeat the sterling performance of last year. “It’s an amazing company that has done great, and the gains are quite justified given its performance,” Bloomberg quoted Christodoulos Chaviaras, an analyst at Barclays in London, as saying. “Can they repeat that? It will be harder. A lot of the positive news is already reflected in the share price,” he added.

According to Bloomberg, the world’s richest man last year remained Mexican magnate Carlos Slim. The 72-year-old, who has heavy investments in telecommunications as well as banking and insurance, saw his fortune increase by 21 percent, or $13.4 billion (10.1 billion euros), to $75.2 billion (56.7 billion euros).

Bloomberg’s index showed the world’s best-heeled people faring well in the economic crisis. Of the top 40 in its list, only Gina Rinehart, owner of the biggest coal and iron ore mines in Australia, saw her wealth drop last year. The total wealth of those on Bloomberg’s list increased by $241 billion to $1.9 trillion.