Jan 10, 2011

Bloomberg LP to Launch Ranking of World's Super-Rich

New York, NY - Bloomberg LP is preparing to launch a ranking of the world’s billionaires, capitalizing on the swelling numbers of wealthy individuals around the world and taking direct aim at the core franchise of Forbes magazine.
Bloomberg on Monday said it is hiring Forbes veteran Matthew Miller as part of an effort to expand its coverage of the wealthy. Mr. Miller will help Bloomberg launch a global rich list sometime in 2012 or 2013, though the details and exact schedule are still uncertain. Mr. Miller spent seven years at Forbes and was the editor for the Forbes 400 list and co-editor of the Forbes World’s Billionaires list until 2010.
Rich lists have become big media franchises as publications compete to feed reader fascination with the money and lifestyles of the super-wealthy. There are now rich lists in China, the U.K. and Australia, with several more on the way.

Yet the lists are also fraught with credibility risks, since estimating people’s wealth is often a guessing game. Forbes failed to include Madoff investor Jeffry Picower, for instance, until 2009, when he was listed with a net worth of $1 billion. Mr. Picower’s widow recently handed over $7.2 billion to the Madoff trustee to settle claw-back claims.
There is also the risk that at some point such lists become redundant to readers.
Forbes declined to comment.
Until recently, Forbes has been the king of the rich lists, with its 29-year-old Forbes 400 list of Richest Americans and its World’s Billionaires list. It has tried to extend its success with the Celebrity 100 list of the richest celebrities and Forbes Fictional 15 of richest fictional characters.
The 2009 print issue of the richest Americans sold 54,524 copies on the newsstand, making it one of the best-selling issues of the year. However, that is a 40% drop-off from the 90,623 copies sold just two years earlier, according to the most recent statistics from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
Forbes never discloses its methods for compiling the list. But billionaires who have appeared on the list say Forbes combines its own reporting—on publicly disclosed stock ownership, corporate stakes, real-estate and other assets—with information provided by the billionaires themselves.
The information provided voluntarily is fact-checked by Forbes. But billionaires say they can influence their ranking by providing selective data or alternative valuations. They say they can also withhold private, non-disclosed information about their debts or liabilities. Valuing wealth is an even bigger problem overseas, where financial markets and legal systems are often less transparent than the U.S.
“It’s very hard, sometimes impossible, to find out what someone’s really worth,” said Jonathan Blattmachr, a top trust-and-estates attorneys to the rich. “I’ve had plenty of clients who should have been on the Forbes list who weren’t, and some who were on the list who were not worth anything near what Forbes said they were worth.”
It is unclear if or how Bloomberg will create a better list. People familiar with Bloomberg’s plans say it will rely on its more than 2,000 journalists around the world to flush out accurate information about the rich in each country. It also plans use its financial data on companies and shareholdings to better determine people’s wealth. Bloomberg has yet to decide where the list will run, although the most likely platform is Bloomberg Markets magazine, which has a highly affluent readership.

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