- By Darrell Hofheinz Daily News Staff Writer
Unlike President Donald Trump and several of his neighbors, most of the richest in Palm Beach got richer over the last 12 months, according to the annual Forbes 400 list of U.S. billionaires released today.
Trump’s estimated net worth fell about 16 percent, from $3.7 billion to $3.1 billion, since the last Forbes 400 list was released about a year ago. Trump is ranked No. 248th out of the country’s 400 wealthiest billionaires, down from No. 156 in 2016.
Trump is among just four of more than 30 billionaires with strong Palm Beach connections to experience a drop in his net worth during a year when Wall Street broke records for stock gains.
Forbes said several factors contributed to the decline of the president’s assets, including “a tough New York real estate market, particularly for retail locations; a costly lawsuit and an expensive presidential campaign.”
And notably missing from this year’s list is Palm Beacher and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross Jr. The 79-year-old investor had an estimated net worth of $2.9 billion last year and was tied for 319th place. Ross has filed “disclosure forms showing a net worth of less than $1 billion,” Forbes reported in the story accompanying the list.
The Daily News has identified 32 billionaires on the Forbes 400 who are known to have strong ties to Palm Beach, either by owning property or frequently leasing a residence here. In all, their total net worth reported by Forbes totals $214.2 billion.
“The minimum net worth to make The Forbes 400 list of richest Americans is now a record $2 billion, up from $1.7 billion a year ago,” according to the story in Forbes.com by Kerry A. Dolan and Luisa Kroll.
The rankings reflect a “snapshot” of net worths as estimated on Sept. 22.
At the top of the island list, once again, is industrialist David Koch, whose fortune of $48.5 billion is up from $42 billion last October, according to Forbes. Koch is ranked sixth on the overall list, once again tied with his brother, Charles Koch, with whom he runs Koch Industries. Charles Koch does not have a home in Palm Beach.
Only eight of the billionaires with Palm Beach ties, however, are identified by Forbes as having their primary residence in the town. Those include discount-brokerage entrepreneur Thomas Peterffy, Franklin Templeton Investments’ Charles Johnson, Reyes Holdings’ Jude Reyes, Marvel Entertainment’s Isaac Perlmutter, real estate developer/investor Jeff Greene,corporate investor C. Dean Metropolous, Slim-Fast founder S. Daniel Abraham and Netscape co-founder James Clark.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who doesn’t have ties to Palm Beach but owns property 25 minutes away in Wellington, is once again the wealthiest billionaire in the country, according to Forbes. Forbes estimates his net worth at $89 billion, up from $81 billion last year.
Far more of the local billionaires had better balance sheets this year than the numbers posted last year. In 2016, a dozen Palm Beach billionaires lost money compared to the previous year, while 13 saw increases, according to Forbes data. Three others’ net worth stayed the same.
But this year, 23 Palm Beach billionaires grew their wealth over the past 12 months, including Greene, whose wealth — estimated at $3.8 billion — was reported at $3.3 billion on the previous two lists, according to Forbes.
Only four Palm Beachers — including Trump — saw their net worths fall on the latest roster. Five others’ fortunes were stagnant.
The biggest loser on the new list, percentage-wise, is Conair founder Leandro Rizzuto, whose net worth fell 31 percent — from $5.1 billion to $3.5 billion. That dropped him from the No. 102 rank in 2016 to No. 212 this year.
Rizzuto is used to big fluctuations, however. On last year’s list, he enjoyed a windfall percentage bump in his net worth, which rose 41 percent over 2015 levels, from $3.6 billion to $5.1 billion in 2016.
In addition to Trump and Rizzuto, Discount Tire magnate Bruce Halle was the only other Palm Beach billionaire on the list to see a double-digit percentage drop in net worth, according to Forbes. Halle’s net worth fell from $6.3 billion to $4.6 billion, nearly a 27 percent decrease.
Story focuses on Ross’ assets
Ross’ abrupt exit from the Forbes 400 was mentioned in a story published Monday on Forbes.com. The story said Ross had reduced his net worth between Trump’s November election and January inauguration by moving “a chunk of assets into trusts for his family members, leaving more than $2 billion off of his financial disclosure report—and therefore out of the public eye. Ross revealed the existence of those assets, and the timing of the transfer, when Forbes asked why his financial disclosure form listed fewer assets than he had previously told the magazine he owned.”
But the Forbes story by Dan Alexander was later updated with comments issued in a statement by the Department of Commerce. As reported by Forbes, part of the statement said: “Contrary to the report in Forbes, there was no major asset transfer to a trust in the period between the election and Secretary Ross’s confirmation. There must have been a miscommunication between Secretary Ross and the Forbes reporter.”
Alexander’s story continued: “In the original conversation, Ross seemed to be clear about the trust and transfer. When informed that Forbes would likely remove him from its list of the 400 richest people in America, the Secretary of Commerce responded, ‘Yeah as long as you put in that the reason is, that explain that the reason is that assets were put into trust, I’m fine with that.’”
Billionaires in flux
Over the years the entry threshold into the Forbes 400 has risen, pushing out some longtime Palm Beach billionaires, including the other Koch brother, Bill Koch, and dealmaker Nelson Peltz. Both dropped off the list last year, although their net worths were $1.23 million and $1.36 million, respectively.
Cosmetics executive Aerin Lauder Zinterhofer, of the Estee Lauder family, returned to this year’s list — tied in 388th place — after dropping off of it in 2016. Forbes.com figured her net worth today at $2 billion. Also new to the list is fellow cosmetics billionaire Jane Lauder, whose $2 billion net worth tied her in 388th place.
And one perennial name is no longer on the Palm Beach list. Although investor George Lindemann is ranked in 226th place on the Forbes 400 with a net worth of $3.3 billion, he and his wife, Frayda, sold their longtime oceanfront estate last year.
Forbes estimates the total net worth of those on the list hit $2.7 trillion, up from $2.4 trillion last year. Their average net worth increased to $6.7 billion, up from $6 billion.
Forbes.com constantly updates the rankings in real time to reflect changes as the value of their stock holdings, investments and other assets change.
Source: Forbes 400, Forbes.com, released 8 a.m. Oct. 17, 2017
Have we overlooked a Palm Beach billionaire on the 2017 Forbes 400 list? If so, email firstname.lastname@example.org.