With an empire of handbags and cognac, Bernard Arnault elbows past tech titan Jeff Bezos to top world’s richest list

June 15, 2021, 11:42 AM UTC

French luxury mogul Bernard Arnault isn’t sending anybody into outer space, but his fortunes sure are taking off.

On Tuesday, Arnault’s net worth topped $196.8 billion—beating Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to become the richest person in the world.

One makes rockets, the other makes handbags. Bezos and Arnault have been knocking each other off the Forbes Real-Time Billionaires List for the past few weeks, and the two are head-to-head. Arnault’s entire family net worth puts him a mere $1.5 billion above Bezos.

Bernard Arnault is the chief executive of LVMH, the world’s biggest luxury goods group, in which he holds a 47.5% stake. Owning an arsenal of luxury names, LVMH is behind drink labels Moët & Chandon Champagne and Hennessy cognac, plus fashion brands Louis Vuitton, Loewe, Christian Dior, and Kenzo.

The company has come out of the pandemic in a flourish—recording surging revenues in the first quarter of 2021 and surpassing pre-pandemic numbers in key markets such as Asia and the U.S.

Shares in LVMH are up 31.1% so far this year as the sales outlook appears bright.

LVMH’s home European market will soon be brimming with shoppers again as vaccinations roll out and tourists flock to capital cities to buy up handbags and liquor that have collected dust during the pandemic.

Additionally, luxury goods aren’t likely to be plagued by inflationary pressures that are dogging some aspects of the post-COVID-19 economic recovery. As raw material and labor prices increase, companies with the pricing power to deal with cost pressures will be protected, according to analysis from Bank of America.

Both Arnault and Bezos sit comfortably above third place runner-up Elon Musk, who lags behind by $40 billion at $154.8 billion.

The competition between Bezos and Arnault has so far been a tight race. Bezos’s net worth has risen above and below the $200 billion mark as the Amazon share price ebbs and flows. He first broke the milestone in August 2020, and again less than a year later in April 2021.

And this is also not the first time Arnault has been crowned world’s richest. He briefly broke the record in December 2019 and again in January 2020, but when the COVID-19 pandemic first broke out in China—the company’s largest growth market—shares in the luxury goods group toppled.

But not to fret. Together, the two business moguls managed to amass $170 billion since the pandemic began in March 2020.

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