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Wednesday, 7 June, 2000, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
Poor Bill Gates
Bill Gates
The world's richest man - stock markets permitting
Despite the collapse of Microsoft's share price, Bill Gates is still the world's richest man - but only just.

Mr Gates' stake in the company he founded and chairs is now worth a couple of billion above $50bn.

The world's top firms
General Electric: $506bn
Intel: $441bn
Cisco Systems: $436bn
Microsoft: $358bn
Stock market value as on 6 June 2000
Just four months ago, it weighed in at nearly double that, $88.99bn.

Luckily for Mr Gates his good fortunes do not depend on the vagaries of the Microsoft share price alone.

Safety net

The "chief software architect" of the world's largest software company and his financial advisers have diverted some of the share wealth into a raft of other investments.

This safety net, worth about an extra $35bn - give or take a few billions, should help him survive the fall on hard times.

One year ago Mr Gates became the world's first person to break through the $100bn mark for personal wealth. Back then, his firm's share price stood at $93.

After peaking at just under $120 at the start of this year, one Microsoft share now trades at $68.

Bill Gates owns about 15% of the company he founded.

The challenger

But it is not old money that is nipping at Mr Gates' heels.

Larry Ellison
Larry Ellison is playing catch-up
The challenger is another of the self-made billionaires of the computer world, Larry Ellison, chairman of Oracle.

His company sells database software and other trappings of the internet age, and his share holdings in Oracle are now worth $48bn.

The turn-around of the world's second-largest software company has been spectacular. Mr Ellison engineered changes that resulted in a rise of Oracle's share price by 544% within the past year.

Number four

The stock market gyrations have not only hit Mr Gates' personal fortunes and those of all Microsoft employees with stocks and stock options.

They have also robbed his firm of a badge once worn with pride: The world's most valuable company.

No more.

General Electric has regained its place as the firm with the biggest stock market capitalisation in the world, weighing in with $506bn.

Admittedly, this is still small compared to Microsoft's performance in its prime, when the company was worth about $620bn.

But to add insult to injury, Microsoft has not even managed to hold on to the number two spot.

The Seattle-based firm is now worth less than firms like network equipment company Cisco Systems ($436bn) and chip-maker Intel ($441bn).

There is just one tiny satisfaction for the people at Microsoft.

They still work for the biggest software company by far.

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See also:

10 Feb 00 | Microsoft
Bill Gates: A profile
10 Feb 00 | Microsoft
Larry Ellison: A profile
20 Apr 00 | Business
The software superpower
25 Apr 00 | Business
Microsoft shares plunge
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