Luxury magnate Bernard Arnault knocks off Elon Musk on world billionaire ranking

April 19, 2021, 12:57 PM UTC

The pandemic has made the rich richer. And a man who sells expensive handbags and Champagne has risen one spot to No. 2 on the rich list, knocking off Tesla’s Elon Musk en route.

Bernard Arnault, the chief executive of the world’s biggest luxury goods group LVMH, is now the world’s second richest person, behind Jeff Bezos, thanks to a revival in demand for luxuries.

Last week, LVMH revealed a surge in revenue in the first quarter, surpassing pre-pandemic numbers and allowing Arnault—who owns 47.5% of LVMH—to jump to second place on the Forbes Real-Time Billionaires List.

Owning an arsenal of luxury names, LVMH is behind drink labels such as Moët & Chandon and Hennessy and fashion brands Louis Vuitton, Loewe, Christian Dior, and Kenzo.

In November, the French firm also realized a long-held dream in clinching a $16 billion takeover of storied U.S. jeweler Tiffany & Co., which is currently being integrated into the LVMH portfolio. So crucial is the acquisition that LVMH has said it is not considering any other purchase until its integration is complete.

Arnault’s entire family net worth is now $182 billion, $2 billion higher than Elon Musk’s but lagging $16 billion behind that of Jeff Bezos.

Arnault, whose riches depend largely on the old-world charms of tried and tested luxury brands, was briefly the world’s richest person in December 2019 and again in January 2020. But that didn’t last. When the COVID-19 pandemic broke in China, the company’s largest growth market, shares in the luxury goods group fell, knocking Arnault off the top ranking.

But demand from Chinese consumers has revived, with LVMH’s sales in Asia, excluding Japan, jumping 86% higher in the first quarter compared with a year ago. Overall, LVMH’s revenue was up 32% from the same period in 2020 and 8% higher than in 2019, driven by demand in Asia and the U.S.

Revenue in Europe was still in the red as countries in the region are grappling with renewed lockdown orders and a lack of tourist footfall. If much of Europe comes out of lockdown and shops reopen, Arnault’s riches might still continue to grow. Watch this space.

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