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Forbes' Billionaire Boys Club

Expensive cars, leggy blonds, or maybe the dreadful comb-over. They can all be signs of a mid-life crisis or perhaps just ritualistic chest-thumping that seems to suggest boys will simply be boys. But there's no more eight-hundred pound gorilla of them all, than Forbes' World's Richest People list. Don't smirk - this is serious business.

Making the cut is a source of great pride for old money and newly minted tycoons. You grab enviable bragging rights with friends and business colleagues. Sure, some of these billionaires may act aloof once the who's-who list goes to print, but for many of them, the list serves as an all-you-can-eat buffet for the ego.

It's kind of like Oscars night. Consider the carnival-like atmosphere when Bill Gates' and Larry Ellison's paper wealth began jockeying for pole position in April of this year. By that time, the Fed goons had already roughed up Microsoft's share price. Oracle , on the other hand, was enjoying a revival with investors. Ellison played a key role in both.

For a fleeting moment, Ellison edged Gates by a half a billion bucks. Call me crazy, but I had this sneaky suspicion that at that very moment, Larry was busy blowing kisses and flexing at himself in the mirror. To level the playing field for the adolescent Oracle skipper, all it took was a 50% haircut to Softie's stock price, and a 500% gain in Oracle shares.

In the new economy, many of today's billionaires are riding the tech stock roller-coaster with two white-knuckled hands gripping the bucket-seats. Take Priceline.com's founder Jay Walker. The name-your-own-price pioneer boasted a top-25 spot just last year with over $10 billion. But since then, his paper wealth has undergone some serious shrinkage. So much so, he failed to make the cut this year.

I've heard endless teasing from new retail investors and day traders that Warren Buffet is as old school as disco. But for those same investors whose portfolios are now leakier than a rusty bucket, the grandfatherly Buffet is making bellbottoms and platform shoes look pretty hip. Slipping just two spots, he weighs in at numero cuatro, with $28 billion.

The worst personal wealth train wreck belongs hands down to Japan's Yasumitsu Shigeta. The 35-year-old billionaire owns a majority interest in Hikari Tsushin, a once blazing hot wireless phone vendor traded on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Amidst a vicious bout of westerner-like irrational exuberance, investors helped boost Shigeta's net worth from $4 billion to $40 billion in less than a year. That would've been good enough for a top three showing, but an equally vicious bout of vertigo sent the stock falling like a stone. By the time Forbes went to press, Shigeta's subsequent $1.7 billion left him on the outside looking in at #231.

Easy come, easy go.

Any questions or comments, love letters or hate mail? As always, feel free to forward them to kblack@internet.com.

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