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Column 031008 Wall

 Monday, March 10, 2008

Mexico’s Ten Billionaires (According to the Forbes List)

By Allan Wall

Forbes magazine recently published its annual list of billionaires. The 2008 list is based on the billionaires’ net worth on February 11th, 2008.

According to Forbes, the world’s wealthiest man is Berkshire Hathaway investor Warren Buffet, at US$62 billion. In second place is Mexican telecoms tycoon Carlos Slim, at US$60 billion. In third place is Bill Gates, with US$58 billion.

In calculating such wealth, a lot depends on how much each man’s stock is currently worth.  In August of 2007, Fortune magazine had actually named Slim as the world’s richest man.

Still, when you’re talking about this kind of money what’s a billion here or there?  According to Forbes, only a measly US$2 billion separates Buffet and Slim, and Slim and Gates.

In Mexico, a country in which about half the population lives under the poverty line, where the per capita income is less than US$7,000.00, Forbes lists ten billionaires. Let’s take a brief look at each.

At US$60 billion, Carlos Slim is by far the richest Mexican.  The man known as “King Midas,” or “The Engineer,” really made it into the big leagues back in 1990 when he bought Telmex (Teléfonos de México) during President Carlos Salinas’ privatizations (though many would call them crony capitalizations).  Telmex controls over 90% of Mexico’s landlines.  Slim also has Telcel (which controls almost 80% of the Mexican cellular phone market) and América Móvil, Latin America’s biggest wireless provider.

But Carlos Slim is not limited to telecommunications and related industries. This guy sells everything, and it’s doubtful that any resident of Mexico can escape putting more money in his already voluminous pockets.  Slim has a bank, an airline, department stores, restaurants and music outlets.  Slim sells insurance, auto parts, and ceramic tile.  The Mexican government pays Slim to construct roads, water treatment plants, petroleum platforms, etc.

All of Slim’s holdings put together equal 6.3 percent of Mexico’s entire annual economic output.

The second-richest Mexican (and the world’s 85th richest man) is Alberto Bailleres, chairman of Industrias Peñoles, the huge metallurgical company that refines gold, lead and zinc.  Bailleres also has stock in the luxury department store El Palacio de Hierro, and in insurance.

At US$7.3 billion, the third-wealthiest Mexican is lumber and mining magnate German Larrea Mota-Velasco of Grupo México.  This company mines zinc, silver and lead, and has been helped by the rising price of copper.  This gentleman also controls Mexico’s biggest railroad.

Ricardo Salinas Pliego is worth US$6.3 billion.  Salinas Pliego runs the Grupo Elektra retailer and the TV Azteca network.  Salinas Pliego is taking on Slim head to head with his mobile carrier Unefon, and he has opened his own bank as part of the Elektra chain which mostly serves low-income clients.  Elektra also sells Chinese cars.  

Jeronimo Arango is the fifth-richest Mexican, worth US$4.3 billion.  Arango’s family business was the Bodega Aurrera supermarket chain, part of Grupo Cifra, which sold out to Wal-mart and became Wal-mart de México (Walmex). Arango also owns real estate.

Isaac Saba Raffoul, worth US$2.1 billion, runs Grupo Casa Saba which markets health, pharmaceutical and beauty products.  Saba also partners with Telemundo to produce telenovelas.

Roberto Hernandez is the seventh-wealthiest Mexican, and he is worth US$1.7 billion.  Hernandez was CEO of Banamex when that bank sold out to Citigroup, for which he serves as a director.  Hernandez also owns resorts on the Yucatan Peninsula.

Emilio Azcarraga Jean is worth US$1.6 billion, and runs media giant Grupo Televisa, famous for, among other things, its telenovelas that the company is now making versions of in Chinese.

Worth US$1.6 billion, Alfredo Harp Helu is Carlos Slim’s cousin.  Like Hernandez, Harp made big bucks off the Citigroup sell-out, and also owns the Mexico City Red Devils baseball team.

Mexico’s tenth-richest man, Lorenzo Zambrano, is head of cement giant Cemex, which is, by the way, the biggest cement company operating in the U.S.A., and one of the world’s biggest.

There may well be other Mexican billionaires who don’t report all their earnings, or hide assets in holding companies.  But these are the ten Mexican billionaires recognized by Forbes magazine in March of 2008.

Is it bad that Mexico has billionaires?  Not necessarily.  Their wealth, after all, is an asset that can be utilized in providing more jobs.  With this said however, I think all ten of these billionaires could do much better at generating employment for their fellow Mexicans.

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Allan Wall, a MexiData.info columnist, recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq.  He currently resides in Mexico, where he has lived since 1991.