Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos speaks after receiving the 2019 International Astronautical Federation (IAF) Excellence in Industry Award during the the 70th International Astronautical Congress at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC on October 22, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

In the early hours of Monday, May 25th, CEO of luxurious brand and Europe’s most valuable company, Bernard Arnault, became the richest man in the world, albeit a short-lived reign. The Frenchman’s company are the manufacturers 75 prestigious brands which include Christian Dior, Givenchy, Marc Jacobs, Stella McCartney, Loro Piana, Kenzo, Celine, Fenty, Princess Yachts, and Bulgari.

Bernard Arnault of the LVMH group, took advantage of the very good start of the luxury stock market to see his fortune exceed that of Jeff Bezos, the boss of Amazon .

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The French billionaire was the captain of the billionaire class according to Forbes’ real-time ranking of the world’s largest fortunes on Monday, before returning behind his American predecessor, Jeff Bezos, at the opening of the New York Stock Exchange.

A Short but Historical Reign

In the six hours between 8:30 WAT and 14:30 WAT, when the New York Stock Exchange opened, Bernard Arnault reigned supreme as the world’s richest human according to official rankings which are updated in real time based on stock market prices.

Around 3:15 p.m. WAT on Monday, Bernard Arnault’s fortune was valued at $186.5 billion, behind that of Mr. Bezos, $187.7 billion, but ahead of that of Elon Musk, the boss of Tesla and SpaceX ($147.6 billion) and Bill Gates ($125.9 billion), the founder of Microsoft.

As at press time, 10:30 WAT, Bernard Arnault has reduced that gap once again to a difference of 8 billion despite Jeff Bezos gaining 1.15 percent in value in the past few hours.

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Bloomberg’s real-time ranking, which uses a different methodology, showed the same order on Monday between the four men.

Arnault and his Luxurious Brands Becoming a Force

In the past year, the fortune of the French multibillionaire has jumped considerably, from 76 billion dollars in March 2020 to more than 186 billion on Monday, which equates to a daily increase of $212 million.

This sudden increase occurred at the same time as the Covid-19 pandemic, which therefore does not seem to have had a negative impact on the LVMH share, the main instigator of the fluctuation in Bernard Arnault’s fortune. This could only mean one thing: that the pandemic rather than crash the luxury sector, has piloted it to record highs.

It must be said that the luxury houses owned by the group are enjoying an unexpected golden age. While they were gradually beginning to fall into disuse, with an increasingly rare clientele, the major European luxury brands were able to open up to a whole new clientele, especially in Asia, in order to announce figures of record business.

In the first quarter of 2021, the LVMH group alone announced no less than $17 billion in revenue. A figure up 32% compared to 2020. But this sudden acceleration is not to be attributed to the work of Bernard Arnault alone as many luxury home managers have experienced an equally dramatic increase over the past year.

François Pinault, another French billionaire and owner of the Yves Saint Laurent brand, among others, saw his fortune go from 27 to 55 billion dollars in less than two years. The same goes for Betancourt, owner of the L’Oréal group, who saw her fortune double during the year 2020, peaking this Monday at 87 billion dollars.

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Europe Strikes Back

While the Forbes ranking of the world’s largest fortunes was until now dominated by the American bosses of the GAFA, with Jeff Bezos at the top, it appears that the “historical” companies of Europe, like the luxury houses, are re-emerging onto the top places of this ranking of the ultra-rich.

European fortunes take first places for the first time in the history of the ranking, ahead of the usual Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and the ever-present Jeff Bezos. If the fortunes of the latter maintains a consistent rise, they have been caught up at breakneck speed by the owners of luxury houses in recent months.

It was widely conceived that digital companies were going to be the big winners from the pandemic with no one banking on such a phenomenal increase in LVMH or Gucci brands in March 2020, at the premiere of the crisis.

Not As Rich As on Paper

Despite all of this numbers and dollar signs on paper, the frantic race for the wealth of these moguls is understood to be purely from the stock market and a speculative point of view. While these people have the most substantial wealth, they do not have hundreds of billions of dollars in their bank accounts.

The vast majority of their fortune comes from equity stakes in companies they have created, inherited or purchased. This value is thus very volatile as these billionaires lose and gain millions of dollars every minute.

Despite the current economic context, the billionaires at the top of the Forbes ranking do not seem bothered by the pandemic. On the contrary, the latter seems to be a gift from heaven for some, as their fortunes have exploded in recent months.

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Like Bernard Arnault, Elon Musk saw his personal fortune increase from $25 billion to more than $180 billion last January . A dazzling progression which owes credit to the media explosion of his different brands, Tesla and SpaceX.


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