PARIS -- France has been rocked lately by protests over income inequalities. But Bernard Arnault, chief executive of LVMH Moet HennessyLouis Vuitton luxury empire, is now the richest man and woman in the world, as well as Francoise Bettencourt–Meyers, the heiress to the global cosmetics company L'Oreal.
Forbes reports that their net worth together is almost $300 billion.
The 74-year-old Mr. Arnault has a global domain that includes 75 brands including Louis Vuitton handbags and Christian Dior dresses. His fortune was estimated at $211 million as of March 10, according to Forbes.
Ms. Bettencourt–Meyers, now 69, has topped the Forbes list of world's richest women for three consecutive years. Her net worth was $80.5 billion. She is the granddaughter of L'Oreal's founder and sits on the company's board. Her husband also makes many of the key decisions. Her international cosmetics brands include Lancome, Kiehl’s, Maybelline New York, Essie, Lancome and Lancome.
These staggering figures include billionaires' personal stockholdings in company stocks. They also show the resilience of wealthy consumers to a crisis in cost-of living. This is because high-earning individuals continued to spend on luxury goods, especially after the pandemic lockdowns. L'Oreal's global sales reached over $38 billion, and LVMH's record revenue was $80 billion.
Luca Solca from Bernstein, chief luxury goods analyst, stated that more people are now willing to spend on luxury goods because they have survived the Covid lockdowns. The middle class suffered and is now hollowing out. He said that the wealthy were unaffected and that the upper middle class was spending on all fronts.
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In the past year, technology companies that are high-flying have had to face a significant reckoning due to a rise in interest rates, high inflation, and uncertain economic conditions. Rapid growth in the aftermath of the pandemic was followed by mass layoffs and a nearly 30% slump in tech shares last years, which severely affected the fortunes Elon Musk, the owner of Twitter, Tesla and Amazon's executive chair, Jeff Bezos. Forbes's rankings ranked Mr. Musk at second with an estimated fortune $180 billion. Mr. Bezos was third with $114 billion.
France's Forbes rankings created a sensation this week. It raised questions about income inequality and ignited debates about whether ultrarich people have increased their wealth by paying too much tax.
Strikes and violent protests have erupted against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension overhaul. This plan would raise the retirement age to 64 from 62. The nationwide protests, which are scheduled for Thursday, have become a rallying point for a wider protest against a widening wealth gap. According to Insee, the French statistics agency Insee, the top 10 percent own almost 80 percent of France's total wealth.
Many protesters made Mr. Arnault the main target of their anger, using unflattering posters of the multibillionaire and images of him as a symbol for a deeper problem plaguing the country.
Philippe Escande, an economist columnist for Le Monde, said that Arnault was seen as the embodiment the ultrarich. He said that France was a country where equality, namely 'liberte. egalite. and fraternite', is very important. This is because it dates back to the Revolution. Money is the problem.
The rise in Mr. Arnault’s fortunes coincides with a visible flexing LVMH's muscle throughout central Paris: Four-story-high billboards proclaim LVMH brands across the city. A massive Dior building is being renovated next to a Louis Vuitton flagship shop dominates the Champs-Elysees. The militant CGT labor union, just a day before new protests, unfurled a banner on Wednesday atop Arc de Triomphe. It was located within sight of Mr. Arnault’s boutiques. They denounced a higher retirement age. Critics believe that higher taxes on the wealthy could boost pension accounts and reduce the need for raising the retirement age.
For his part, Mr. Arnault retorted, pointing out his company had hired 40,000 people worldwide in 2022 and that he invested 5 billion euros ($5.5 Billion) in new shops and workshops in France.
He also has been working to ensure that his empire remains a family business for future generations. He has made moves worthy of Netflix's hit series "Succession" and has extended his retirement age to 80. In the past year, he has also placed each of his five adult kids in strategic positions within the group. This has created a fight over who will ascend to his position.
The Forbes list revealed that Europe's billionaires made their fortunes in traditional industries such as luxury, retail and food, with the majority of them coming from Europe. Nearly all of the billionaires are technology heads, with the majority of them coming from the United States or China.
According to Mr. Escande, "In two or three year, tech will likely be back" at the top of the richest earners list. This is due to the continued economic power of China and the United States.
He noted that in Europe, "we still don’t have anything comparable with Apple, Amazon or Netflix or Google" despite having tried for over 20 years.