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Amazon made Jeff Bezos the world’s richest man for almost a whole day

by Peter A. McKay
Jul 27 2017, 1:09pm

The big dogs in the billionaires’ club may soon have a new top dog: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

A bump in Amazon’s share price Thursday morning temporarily pushed Bezos’s net worth just above $90 billion, surpassing that of Bill Gates. That briefly made Bezos the “world’s richest person,” according to rankings tracked by both Forbes and Bloomberg, although Amazon’s stock ultimately reversed course to end down slightly at the closing bell, off less than 1 percent. The company’s shares were also weak in after-hours trading when its quarterly profit report was weaker than expected.

That left Gates’s top position intact for now. But overall, Amazon clearly has more momentum than its Seattle-area neighbor Microsoft right now, which bodes well for Bezos in the rich-guy race. Amazon is up almost 40 percent so far this year, compared to a rise of less than 20 percent for Microsoft.

Fun as news organizations’ “world’s wealthiest” scorecards are to gossip about, they should always be taken with a grain of salt, since they focus on legitimate fortunes rooted in easily trackable assets like shares of public companies. Royalty, dictators, and sundry other unsavory sorts who plunder whole countries’ economies through corruption and offshore accounts tend to be excluded. By some estimates, for instance, Vladimir Putin may be more than twice as rich as Bezos.

Still, if such caveats have become necessary to point out, that itself says something about the success of Bezos and Amazon as a whole. The company has undeniably been on a roll lately, including a number of major milestones:

  • Its Amazon Prime service has proven popular and is pushing into new international markets. In a letter to shareholders last year, Bezos listed Prime as a pillar of Amazon’s growth strategy. He wrote: “We want Prime to be such a good value, you’d be irresponsible not to be a member.”
  • Its plan to acquire Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, which is Amazon’s biggest foray yet into brick-and-mortar-retailing, has been hailed by shareholders. Since the deal, Amazon’s market capitalization has increased by about $40 billion, which makes the acquisition essentially free to the company.
  • Its Echo device is the clear early leader in the voice assistant product category. The industry site eMarketer recently estimated Amazon controls 70 percent of that burgeoning market, with Google Home running a distant second.
  • Amazon as a company has also flirted with a big milestone lately as its total market value is hovering just shy of the $500 billion benchmark.

Despite yesterday’s earnings stumble, Amazon may yet have room to expand further. E-commerce currently accounts for only 8.5 percent of all retail activity in the U.S., according to U.S. Census data released in May.

Amazon declined to comment for this story.

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