France, Guardian of Égalité, Leads the List of Ultrarich 強調平等精神？法國卻成超級富豪聚集地
France, which has been riven lately by angry protests over income inequality, can now claim to have the world's richest man and woman: Bernard Arnault, CEO of the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton luxury empire, and Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers, heir of global cosmetics giant L'Oréal.
Their combined net worth is nearly $300 billion, according to Forbes' latest tally.
Arnault, 74, whose worldwide domain encompasses 75 brands, including Louis Vuitton handbags, Tiffany diamond rings, Christian Dior dresses and Sephora high-end cosmetics, leaped past American technology titans with a fortune estimated at $211 billion as of March 10, when the Forbes figures were tallied.
Bettencourt-Meyers, 69, who has led the Forbes list of the world's wealthiest women for three straight years, had an estimated net worth of $80.5 billion. A granddaughter of L'Oréal's founder, she is on the company's board and together with her husband makes many of the controlling decisions. Her company's international cosmetics brands include Kiehl's, Lancôme, Maybelline New York and Essie.
The eye-popping figures, which include the billionaires' personal holdings of company stocks, testify to the resilience of wealthy consumers against a cost-of-living crisis, as high earners continued to splurge on luxury goods — especially in the wake of pandemic lockdowns. L'Oréal had global sales of more than $38 billion last year, while LVMH had record revenue of $80 billion.
"More people are flocking to spending on luxury goods after having survived COVID lockdowns," said Luca Solca, chief luxury goods analyst at Bernstein. "The middle class did suffer and is hollowing out. But the wealthy were untouched, and the upper middle class is spending on all fronts."
High-flying technology companies, on the other hand, have faced a major reckoning over the past year amid a surge in interest rates, high inflation and uncertain economic conditions. Rapid growth during the pandemic has been followed by widespread layoffs, and a nearly 30% slump in tech shares last year cut sharply into the fortunes of Elon Musk, owner of Twitter and Tesla, and Amazon's executive chair, Jeff Bezos. Musk slipped to second place in Forbes' rankings, with an estimated fortune of $180 billion, and Bezos came in third with $114 billion.
Signs are everywhere that it is coming in the next month or so.
New Western weapons that could prove critical in assaults, like German Leopard 2 tanks and U.S. mine-clearing vehicles, are arriving in Ukraine. Thousands of recruits are training in newly constituted units tailored for offensives. And the military command is holding back elite soldiers from the worst of the fighting in the east, in and around the city of Bakhmut, to throw them instead into the coming campaign.
But that toughness has come at a steep cost. Ukraine has lost thousands of its most experienced fighters. Now Samoilenko, a veteran commander and survivor of the siege of the city of Mariupol, is using his experience to train new recruits.
The new Ukrainian campaign, when it comes, will be a test of its army's ability to re-arm and reconstitute battalions while maintaining the motivation and maneuvering skills that gave it an edge in three previous counteroffensives.
The timing is critical. Success for Ukraine in the battles on the southeastern plains would drive home to the world the declining military might of Russia, ease concerns that the war has settled into a quagmire and most likely encourage Ukraine's allies to further arm and finance Kyiv in the war.
Western support has been solid so far but is not guaranteed. The U.S. budget for military assistance, for example, is now expected to run out by around September, and a senior American defense official recently described the latest tranche of artillery rounds and rockets sent to Ukraine as a "last-ditch effort."
"The key point in the eyes of Washington elites — and Washington elites are the judge and jury on this — is that Ukraine has to be seen as having gained significant land in the coming offensive," Cliff Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group, a political risk assessment firm in Washington, said in an interview.