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America's biggest billionaire losers of 2008

December 30, 2008 13:17 IST

Last year casino mogul Sheldon Adelson was on top of the world. When the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans was published in September 2007, the gruff son of a Boston cab driver--who spent his life amassing a mega-fortune in conventions and casinos--was worth $28 billion.

A month later, shares of his Las Vegas Sands casino company had swelled to an all-time high of $144 a share, adding another $10 billion to Adelson's fortune. Between September 2006 and September 2007, he made $20.5 million per day.

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  • Proud of his accomplishments, the plutocrat reportedly adopted a new nickname. According to a 2008 article in The New Yorker magazine, he began referring to himself as "Sheldon Adelson the 3rd," a nod to his place on our list as America's third-richest citizen. (Adelson's spokesman declined to comment for this story.)

    That was before the economy fell apart. Since the beginning of 2008, LVS shares have plummeted 95%, erasing $24 billion from Adelson's fortune as cost-conscious consumers stay away from casinos in Las Vegas and Macau.

    When the next Forbes 400 is published in September 2009, Adelson will likely be vying just to stay on the list unless the economy rapidly recovers. (He's doing everything he can to stay rich: This fall Adelson injected $1 billion of his own cash into LVS to help keep the company afloat).

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  • Adelson tops the Forbes list of America's 25 biggest losers of 2008, an estimate of the largest drops (in dollars) of American citizens holding publicly traded stocks from Jan. 2, 2008 to Dec. 5, 2008. It excludes shares bought or sold during that period.

    Fortunes tied to privately held companies were not evaluated; they will be re-tallied for our list of the World's Billionaires in March.

    Combined, the tycoons on our ranking lost $167 billion in 11 months, while shares of the companies in which they own stakes fell an average 59%.

    Following Adelson in the loss column is America's second-richest man, Warren Buffett. The Oracle of Omaha (who held the title of world's richest man in March) lost $16.5 billion as shares of Berkshire Hathaway fell 28% this year.

    Software visionary Bill Gates was America's third-biggest loser; he watched his shares of Microsoft decline 45%, wiping $12.3 billion off his personal balance sheet in 11 months.

    Rounding out the top five biggest losers: investor Kirk Kerkorian and Google Co-founder Larry Page, who each lost $11.9 billion. Page's Google shares shed 59% of their value this year.

    Kerkorian lost billions in his casino, oil and auto stakes. His largest holding, MGM Mirage, is down 87% since January. He also recently disclosed he sold a significant portion of his shares of Ford at a loss.

    Tycoons who own major stakes in publicly traded hedge funds and private equity shops have been hit especially hard. Stephen Schwarzman's 234 million shares in Blackstone Group were worth $5.2 billion 11 months ago. The stock has fallen 72% since then, reducing the value of Schwarzman's stake to $1.5 billion--a loss of $3.8 billion.

    Wesley Edens, co-founder of hedge fund Fortress Investment Group, watched his fortune dwindle as investor redemptions soared at the company's flagship fund.

    Edens, along with partners Michael Novogratz and Peter Briger, was a member of The Forbes 400 in 2007, but since January has lost $1 billion as Fortress shares fell 89%. Today his stake in the company is worth $130 million; it's doubtful he will regain his billionaire status in the near future.

    Four 10-figure fortunes were wiped out by the collapse of insurance giant AIG. Among them: Maurice "Hank" Greenberg. The spry insurance veteran's shares of AIG were worth $2.6 billion in January. Today those shares are worth less than $100 million.

    Duncan Greenberg,