New York: Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has retained his position as the richest person in America for the 19th year in a row this year, according to Forbes' annual ranking of the nation's 400 super rich people who have a combined net worth of USD 1.7 trillion.

With a net worth of USD 66 billion, Gates not only remained the richest person in America but is also "the planet's most generous person", thanks to his countless philanthropic endeavours in developing nations, including India, Forbes said.

The 56-year old Harvard drop out has given away USD 28 billion to philanthropic causes so far, with his new obsession being building better toilets for those without water or sewage systems, it added.

Every year 1.5 million children die from food and water tainted with fecal matter, more the annual deaths from AIDS and malaria combined, Forbes said.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is also spearheading a malaria vaccine that is showing promise in clinical trials. The non-profit Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) founded by Gates has raised USD 4.3 billion in pledges from various countries to provide life-saving vaccines against a range of deadly infections.

"Gates and his good friend Warren Buffett continue to recruit new members to their Giving Pledge, in which the very wealthy promise to give away at least half of their net worth during their lifetime or after they die," Forbes said.

Gates' net worth rose USD 7 billion since last August on the back of Microsoft shares, which climbed 20 per cent and on gains from investments in private equity, bonds and stocks,
Forbes said. In addition, Gates continues to sell shares of Microsoft and now just one-fifth of his net worth stems from the software company he co-founded 37 years ago.

On the second spot with a USD 46 billion net worth is 82- year old Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, who recently completed radiation treatment for prostate cancer.

Earlier this year, Buffett said he had picked his CEO replacement but has declined to give a name.

Among the names of possible successors making the rounds is Berkshire's head of reinsurance business India-born Ajit Jain.

Buffett is not too far behind Gates when it comes to philanthropy. He gave USD 1.5 billion to the Gates Foundation in July, bringing his total contribution to USD 17.25 billion.

On his birthday in August he pledged USD 3 billion Of stock to his children's foundations. His fortune grew USD 7 billion as class A shares jumped more than 20 per cent since last year.
Forbes said the combined net worth of the 2012 class of the 400 richest Americans is USD 1.7 trillion, up 13 percent from the USD 1.5 trillion a year ago.

The average net worth of a Forbes 400 member is a staggering USD 4.2 billion, up from USD 3.8 billion dollars and the highest ever, as two-thirds of the individuals added to their fortunes in the past year.

"The gap between the very rich and the merely rich is widening. Only two in the top 20 are poorer, and as a group they are worth USD 73 billion more than a year ago," it said.

On the third spot is Oracle head Larry Ellison, whose net worth grew USD 8 billion to USD 41 billion, the biggest dollar gain of anyone on the list this year.

The country's three richest entrepreneurs drove much of those gains, continuing to add billions to their net worth, even as they give money away, Forbes said.

"No one fell more dramatically than Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg," whose fortune stumbled USD 8.1 billion, making him the year's biggest loser.

Zuckerberg ranked 36th on the list with a net worth of USD 9.4 billion but he is still USD 2.5 billion richer than he was two years ago and he's "handily entrenched in the ranks,"
Forbes said.

"Zuckerberg has faced a rough road since Facebook went public in May. The stock of the social networking company has performed poorly, falling below USD 20 in August after debuting at USD 38."

Newcomers to the exclusive club of 400 include widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Laurene Powell Jobs who is now the wealthiest woman in Silicon Valley, and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey. Jobs was placed 28th on the list with a net worth of USD 11 billion.

Just 45 women made it to the list, up from 42 last year, Forbes said.

Others on the list are New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at rank 10, founder Jeff Bezos (11), Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page (13), media titan Rupert
Murdoch (36), business tycoon Donald Trump (128), talk show host Oprah Winfrey (151) and Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz (311).

The Forbes ranking of the nation’s super rich was launched in 1982 when a net worth of 75 million dollars assured one of a place in the list.

This year's entry fee is USD 1.1 billion dollars. There were just 13 billionaires when the list was launched and the total worth of the 400 club was a mere USD 93 billion.


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