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'Potter' author now a billionaire

Harry Potter author JK Rowling.
Harry Potter author JK Rowling.

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NEW YORK (Reuters) -- "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling and the founders of web engine Google joined Forbes magazine's list of world billionaires in a year where booming stock markets fattened the bankrolls of the rich.

Rowling, once an unemployed single mother, saw her wealth rise to $1 billion after the publication of the latest "Harry Potter" novel and the success of the wizardly character as a movie franchise, the magazine said on Thursday.

And with Google becoming the Internet search engine of choice among the tech savvy, company founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page also saw their fortunes reach $1 billion apiece.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates was the world's richest man for the 10th year running with a personal fortune of over $46 billion, but investor Warren Buffett was catching up.

The world's mega-rich grew even richer over the past year as their stock portfolios swelled, catapulting the total number of billionaires to a record 587.

"After two years of significantly falling fortunes, we really saw an uptick for just about everyone on the list," Forbes Associate Editor Luisa Kroll told a news conference.

The total net worth of the world's billionaires added up to a staggering $1.9 trillion, equal to almost one fifth of the giant U.S. economy.

Buffett scored the year's biggest financial gains -- his piggy bank ballooned $12.4 billion to $42.9 billion, equivalent to the combined output of several small African nations.

German supermarket magnate Karl Albrecht was worth $23 billion, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal with $21.5 billion and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen $21 billion.

The top 10 was rounded out by five members of the Walton family, which owns discount-chain chain Wal-Mart, each with an equal share in a $100 billion fortune -- more than Gates and Buffett combined.

Rising oil prices helped eight new Russian entrepreneurs squeeze into the select list of the world's extremely rich.

Older, married men dominated the list, which includes 53 women and 24 singles. The average billionaire's age is 64, and 27 are under 40.

New York was the home base of choice for the super-rich, with 31 of them living there. Moscow came in second with 23, followed by Hong Kong with 16 and Paris with 10.

The list saw the addition of 64 new billionaires this year and even included a wanted man, a suspected arms trader and three jailbirds.

"Not everyone on this list is a paragon of virtue," said Steve Forbes, CEO of publishing company Forbes.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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