The wealthiest Americans are getting poorer, losing 300 billion dollars of their net worth over the past 12 months, according to an annual Forbes magazine ranking released Wednesday.
The annual Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans found legendary investor Warren Buffett had lost the most cash -- 10 billion dollars -- as his holding company Berkshire Hathaway suffered severe losses.
Topping the list was Microsoft founder turned disease-battling philanthropist Bill Gates, whose net worth was estimated at 50 billion dollars, down seven billion from last year.
Buffett came in second, followed by Oracle Corp founder and CEO Lawrence Ellison, the only person on the top 10 list whose fortune remained unchanged -- at 27 billion.
The 400 wealthiest Americans had total net assets of 1.57 trillion dollars, down from 1.27 trillion. It was only the fifth time that the fortunes of members of the Forbes 400 had declined since its inception in 1982.
Forbes attributed the loss of wealth to "faltering capital markets and real estate prices, along with fraud and divorce."
The losses affected 314 returning members and forced 32 plutocrats to fall off the list, including disgraced and jailed financier Allen Stanford, former chief of troubled Citigroup Sanford Weill and former Google billionaire Omid Kordestani, who faced a costly divorce.
Talk show queen Oprah Winfrey came in 141st after losses of 400 million dollars.
Only 28 members added to their wealth, among them banker Andrew Beal, who tripled his net worth to 4.5 billion dollars buying cheap loans and assets, coming in 52nd.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is seeking a third term in elections next November, lost 2.5 billion dollars to come in eighth place with 17.5 billion from the massive financial news and data business that bears his name.
The price of admission to the Forbes list fell to 950 million from 1.3 billion in 2008.
Among the newcomers to the list was a client of jailed Wall Street swindler Bernard Madoff.
Jeffry Picower, number 371 on the Forbes list and a longtime investor with the former Nasdaq chairman, is alleged to have profited by billions of dollars from Madoff's fraud, according to a civil lawsuit.