The co-founder and chairman of Microsoft Corp. remained the richest person in the world, according to the annual survey by Forbes Magazine of the 400 wealthiest Americans.
The slowing economy was reflected in the declining worth in the rankings, which were released by Forbes on its Web site Thursday night. The magazine is scheduled to be on newsstands Oct. 1.
Super investor Warren Buffett moved into second place, followed by the other Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen. Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison dropped from second to fourth.
The rest of the top 10, except for Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer, was a family affair, made up of relatives of deceased Wal-Mart Stores Inc. founder Sam Walton.
Gates' net worth fell to $54 billion this year, down from $63 billion last year, largely on the strength of Microsoft's shares, but the diversity of his portfolio, which includes significant investments beyond Microsoft, kept him in the top spot for the eighth straight year.
Buffett saw his net worth fall to $33.2 billion, but the 71-year-old Nebraskan still regales investors with his Berkshire Hathaway Investments. According to Forbes, Berkshire Hathaway shares outpaced the Standard & Poor's 500 last year.
The combined net worth of all 400 fell from $1.2 trillion in 2000 to $946 billion this year, only the third time that's happened since Forbes began compiling the list in 1982.
Fifty-four "new economy" entrepreneurs were pushed off as the high-tech sector continued to slide. They were replaced by people in more traditional sectors, including retailing and manufacturing.
Thirteen people who made the list last year because of fiber optics are nowhere to be found. Others who fell off include Donna Dubinsky and Jeffrey Hawkins, founders of Handspring Inc., and WorldCom Inc. chief executive Bernie Ebbers.
Three people died and were not included: Michael Chowdry, CEO of Atlas Air; Hewlett-Packard Co. co-founder William Hewlett; and media giant Randolph Hearst.
The list's average financial heavyweight is worth $2.4 billion, down $600 million from last year.
This year's lineup includes 236 billionaires, down from 274 last year. Just to make it into the top 400 took a minimum net worth of $600 million, down $125 million from last year.
Considering the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, the magazine recalculated the financial effect on 50 of the list's more recognizable names.
Gates lost another $7.2 billion from Aug. 27 to Sept. 24, leaving his net worth at $46.8 billion. Buffett lost $2.8 billion, dropping his net worth to $30.4 billion, and Allen's net worth fell $4 billion to $24.2 billion.
The total net worth of the group of 50 dropped from $311 billion to $266.5 billion, or more than $44 billion.
"By looking at the impact of recent events on the working capital of group of America's top businesspeople and investors, we thought we could provide one measure of the shock the American financial system sustained," said Forbes editor Bill Baldwin.
The ranking includes fortune-makers spread across the age spectrum, from Daniel Ziff, the 30-year-old heir who joined his brothers and turned a family publishing fortune into an even bigger investment portfolio, to Max Fisher, 93, who reaped his fortune from oil.
There are 46 women on the list.
49 of the 400 inherited some or all of their wealth, and the rest made their money themselves.
279 are college graduates, with an average net worth of $2.2 billion.
118 never completed college and have an average net worth of $1.9 billion.
California has the most on the list, 92. New York City counts 38.
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