NEW YORK (AP) - Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates topped Forbes magazine's list of the world's top billionaires for the third straight year, and he's pulling away from the pack as his software empire rides the stock market's record-setting wave.
Gates' net worth doubled to $36.4 billion over the past year. That put him nearly $9 billion ahead of the second-place Walton family, the $27.6 billion heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune, Forbes said in its 11th annual rankings, released Sunday.
Gates' personal wealth has swelled as investors more than doubled the stock price of Microsoft, whose Windows operating system is the most popular for running personal computer functions.
Forbes says in its July 28 issue that it limited the list of billionaires this year to the top 200 because the rapid rise of the global economy and stock markets has produced nearly 500 billionaires worldwide. There were 447 on last year's list and just 96 when the magazine started the rankings 10 years ago.
Wall Street's bull market also helped American billionaires double their spots in the top 10 ranking, with six slots. Last year, Asians made up half the top 10 list but this year only two were members: Hong Kong real estate magnates Lee Shau Kee, No. 4 with $14.7 billion, and the Kwok brothers, No. 8 at $12.3 billion.
Of the American entries, investor Warren Buffett was No. 3 at $23.2 billion and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen stood at No. 6 with $14.1 billion.
The other Americans in the top 10 were the Haas family of Levi Strauss, seventh with $12.3 billion, and the Mars candy family, at No. 9 with $12 billion.
In fifth place were the Oeri, Hoffman and Sacher families of Switzerland, heirs of the Swiss pharmaceutical group Roche, with $14.3 billion. Rounding out the top 10 was the Quandt family of Germany, which owns half of BMW and is worth $11.7 billion.
Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, the Japanese real estate and transportation mogul who was once the world's richest businessman, slid to No. 22 from seventh last year as his country's property market continued to falter.
Hong Kong, which this month returned to Chinese control after 156 years of British rule, placed seven billionaires on the list, including Nina Wang, the world's second richest woman. Her net worth of $7 billion from running the Chinachem real estate empire ranks second behind Liliane Bettencourt, the $8.4 billion heiress to the L'Oreal cosmetics fortune.
Forbes provided a separate ranking of dictators and royalty, excluding them from the global billionaires list since they have no direct role in managing businesses. The Sultan of Brunei, worth $38 billion, heads the list. Cuban president Fidel Castro is No. 10 with $1.4 billion.
Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom is worth either $350 million or $16 billion, depending on whether the Royal Collection - with the crown jewels - is included, Forbes said.
The Forbes 400, the magazine's more widely publicized list of richest Americans, is scheduled for the Oct. 13 issue.
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