After briefly dethroning Microsoft zillionaire Bill Gates to become the world’s richest man last week, Jeff Bezos has settled back into third place on Forbes’s list of billionaires. On Thursday, the 53-year-old Amazon founder and C.E.O. found himself atop the list of the richest individuals in the world when Amazon’s climbing stock price boosted his personal net worth above $90.6 billion—about $500 million more than Gates’s.
But no one stays at the top forever. Bezos lost the title of the world’s richest man just hours later, as Amazon’s stock plunged in the wake of a disappointing earnings report. Overnight, Bezos, who owns just slightly more than 16 percent of Amazon, lost an estimated $6 billion, placing him back behind Gates as the second-richest person in the world. By the end of the day Monday, he had dropped further, falling into third place behind Spanish business tycoon Amancio Ortega, who co-founded Zara parent Inditex. During the day on Tuesday, Bezos slipped back into second place, but not for long. On Wednesday, Bezos has fallen again, settling into third place, behind Gates and Ortega, as shares of Inditex climbed more than 1 percent.
The difference between the three billionaires is essentially immaterial. But Bezos’s teetering net worth could be a sign of volatility to come. Amazon’s market capitalization has risen so quickly, and so precipitously, that some investors are clearly getting vertigo. While the e-commerce giant is still posting massive, 20 percent year-over-year revenue growth, Amazon is still earning annually what Facebook makes in about a quarter. Wall Street has put up with Amazon’s focus on growth over profit, in part, because Bezos is such a visionary. Whether the Bezos mystique justifies Amazon’s stratospheric price-to-earnings ratio is another story.
Since Thursday, Amazon’s stock has dipped nearly 5 percent. Bezos can take solace in knowing that he’s still richer than Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg, who are fourth and fifth on Forbes’s list. For now, anyway.