It has been a bleak year for the economy, with high inflation and fears of a recession leading to sharp falls in the stock market. Tech companies have endured some of the biggest shocks: Netflix’s stock is down more than 60 percent so far this year; Metas is down about 58 percent. According to Google Finance, shares of Amazon and Google will fall by about 30 percent each year by 2022.
As technology stocks plummet, industry billionaire leaders have also suffered losses in their personal fortunes. That’s one of this year’s takeaways Forbes 400 list, an annual accounts of the 400 richest Americans. Tech billionaires have lost a collective $315 billion since last year.
But while the turmoil that tech companies are currently dealing with is very real, the tech leaders are doing fine. The vast majority are still wealthier than they were before the pandemic, when they saw their wealth reach unprecedented heights.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos lost $50 billion in 2022, leaving him with a net worth of about $151 billion, according to Forbes. That still means he is 32 percent richer than he was in 2019, when he had $115 billion. Microsoft founder Bill Gates lost $28 billion, but that makes him about as rich as he was before the pandemic, with a net worth of $106 billion. Google founder Sergey Brin is about $35.5 billion richer compared to 2019.
Forbes’ methodology places some tech-adjacent billionaires in other categories, such as “automotive” for Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk or “media & entertainment” for Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg. But of the 65 billionaires on the Forbes 400 categorized under technology — including Oracle founder Larry Ellison, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer — 56 are richer than they are. . were in 2019, despite the current downturn.
“On the one hand, $315 billion is a lot,” said Chase Peterson-Withorn, deputy editor of the Forbes team, which compiles and edits the Forbes 400 list. “But they’re all doing well. These are people who are extremely rich.”
Because of the sheer size of their fortunes, “tech leaders probably swing dollars more than other people,” he continued.
Billionaire wealth can fluctuate quite a bit even in one day, and estimates can also differ depending on how you measure wealth (Bloomberg has its own billionaire index, for example). The Forbes 400 captures a snapshot of one’s wealth on a given day. For the 2022 list, Forbes compared September 3, 2021 to September 2, 2022.
The biggest exception to the pandemic gains of tech billionaires is Zuckerberg, who lost nearly $77 billion last year and is now worth $57.7 billion, compared to $69.6 billion in 2019 — a drop of about 17 percent. Dustin Moskovitz, who co-founded Facebook with Zuckerberg, has also seen his fortune shrink, from $11.6 billion in 2019 to $8.1 billion in 2022.
Eric Yuan, the founder of Zoom, has also lost money as more employees return to the office and rely less on virtual meetings. But it’s not a catastrophic long-term loss, especially when you consider how much Zoom’s value has fallen — from a peak price of $588.84 a share in October 2020, it’s currently trading around $75. Forbes has no data on Yuan’s net worth. in 2019, but on September 2 of that year, the Bloomberg Billionaires Index estimates that he was worth about $4.78 billion. The Forbes 400 has a net worth of Yuan for 2022 at $3.9 billion.
For the most part, tech billionaires have made their fortunes fat over the past three years. The best example of the pandemic tech boom is Elon Musk. By the end of 2020, still deep in the throes of Covid-19 lockdowns and business disruptions, Musk’s net worth was increased by as much as 242 percent compared to the previous year.
“He was the first person we ever tracked worth more than $300 billion,” Peterson-Withorn said.
Musk is currently embroiled in a legal battle with Twitter after he pulled out of the company’s acquisition. It will go to court in October and could cost him a lot of money, especially if the court decides that Musk should go ahead with it. But paying $44 billion for Twitter is still less than the $48 billion it made between 2019 and 2020 alone.
“We’ve made astronomical gains during the pandemic,” said Chuck Collins, director of the Institute for Policy Studies’ Program on Inequality and the Common Good. “We could think of this more as a small adjustment in an overall increase in wealth in just three years.”
Some tech billionaires have even gotten richer, even as they give away billions and billions. The ultra-rich are donating more dollars than ever, but their wealth is still piling up. MacKenzie Scott gave away more than $12 billion since 2019, including a whopping $275 million donation to Planned Parenthood this year, the largest donation to the organization in its history. But even with Amazon stock, its main source of wealth, losing about 30 percent of its value in 2022, she’s still richer than in 2019. Bill and Melinda French Gates gave away $15 billion in 2021, and Gates recently donated another $20 billion to his foundation — but it’s still worth about the same as it was in 2019.
All of this speaks of the incredible growth technology has experienced in recent years, a growth some financial analysts predicted would be unsustainable, believing that the shares were overvalued.
“[People] think the past is representative of the future, and confuse past performance with investment quality in the future,” Avanidhar Subrahmanyam, a professor of finance at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, told Recode via email. “It’s counterproductive. Anything with grueling past performance is more likely to be overvalued.”
“I agree that some stocks have become unsustainably overvalued precisely because of this bias,” he said.
Workers are bearing the brunt of the consequences of this technical downturn, with at least 40,000 employees in the sector that will be laid off this year. But for Big Tech’s leaders and investors, this slump is a blip compared to what they’ve amassed during the pandemic.
“It’s almost as if their wealth was boosted by the circumstances of the pandemic,” Collins told Recode. “There has been general concern about inequality, but people are starting to see how the billionaire class has become disconnected from the rest of society.” according to an Oxfam report Published early this year, the world’s billionaires have become $5 trillion richer between March 2020 and March 2021.
Even when there are setbacks, billionaires seem to be moving forward in the long run. That is the magnitude and allure of their wealth and power. It may seem like they’ve lost a lot of money in the past year — or, put another way, they just haven’t gained as much as they’d hoped in their wildest dreams.