Mexican Carlos Slim overtakes Bill Gates as world’s richest man

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO — The Mexican telecom magnate surpassed Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates as the world’s richest man. Another month, another $3.5 billion dollars. That’s the rate at which Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim ‘s fortune has been multiplying this year. The rapid accumulation of wealth may have already pushed him past Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to become the world’s richest man.

Share prices are up 39% so far this year for Slim’s América Móvil, the predominant wireless operator in Latin America. The stock of his fixed-line telephone company Telefonos de Mexico, which has a 90% market share in his native Mexico, is up 34%. Even his new regional infrastructure company, IDEAL, has seen its share price climb 28% this year, better than the Mexico stock exchange’s 19.2% average.

Four months ago, the 67-year-old magnate net worth—which he shares with his six adult children—was estimated at $54 billion. But now, Mexican financial newsletter Sentido Común (Common Sense), crunching the most recent share-price indicators at the end of the second quarter, figures his fortune has climbed to $67.8 billion, outstripping that of Gates.

Slim, long known for his ability to spot undervalued companies and turn them into efficient, profitable enterprises, has often been called the “Warren Buffett of Latin America.” But now the portly, cigar-puffing Slim is likely to be the one to whom other wealthy, rising entrepreneurs around the world will be compared. And now that Buffett has pledged to give away billions to Gates’ charitable foundation, there is growing public pressure for Slim to start giving away more of his billions.

The savvy businessman said he was starting to significantly boost his charitable activities. The $1.2 billion endowment of his telecom company’s Telmex Foundation makes it Latin America’s largest corporate giver. But Slim is taking money out of his own pocket as well, last year doubling the size of his family charity, the Carso Foundation, to $2.5 billion.

In recent weeks, the Telmex Foundation has been publishing daily, three-color, full-page advertisements in major Mexican newspapers to publicize its many charitable programs, which, among other things, provide bicycles to rural children so they can get to school and provide free surgical operations for the poor.

Slim also just donated $100 million to the Clinton Foundation. Former President Bill Clinton announced on June 21, 2007 that his foundation is launching a new sustainable development initiative in Latin America, the Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative (CGSGI), thanks to the major financial commitment of two prominent philanthropists, Frank Giustra and Carlos Slim Helú. Both, Giustra, a Canadian businessman, and Carlos Slim Helú have pledged a minimum of $100 million to CGSGI’s work in Latin America.

Publicity surrounding his ever-increasing wealth, which doesn’t go down well in a country like Mexico, where 45% of the population lives below the poverty line and where the per capita gross domestic product is just over $8,000. The companies Slim controls account for nearly half of the Mexican stock exchange’s value. Slim argues that his companies provide tens of thousands of jobs that are badly needed in Mexico and scoffs at the annual tabulation of the net worth of billionaires around the world, saying it’s meaningless because he never intends to sell his companies. If he did, though, he’d be even more in the pink: Mexico doesn’t charge capital-gains tax on stock sales.

Slim is the most visible of Mexico’s monopolists, controlling more than 70% of the country’s wireless telephones and 90% of landlines, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) says that his companies charge among the highest fees in the world.

Gates, whose net worth at the end of 2006 was estimated by Forbes magazine to be $56 billion, soared to the top of the world’s wealthiest people in the 1990s as Microsoft came to dominate the PC industry. But the growth of his net worth has slowed in the new millennium.

The rich get richer—and some of the rich, including Slim, get richer faster than others. Over the years, he has owned large chunks of retailer Saks and his family owns CompUSA, the troubled computer retailer, which they’re currently trying to unload. That’s one of the few bad bets Slim has made in a remarkable investment career.

More typical is América Móvil, whose sales were up 24% last year, to $21.5 billion, and whose profits were up a nifty 34.4%, to $3.9 billion. The company, which ranked No. 2 in BusinessWeek ‘s recently published list of the world’s 100 top IT firms is set for another banner year. And so is Slim’s bank account.

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