Half a billion dollars is hardly chump change by any standard of wealth. But it won't get you on the Business Journal's list of 50 wealthiest Angelenos.

This year's floor is $540 million, up from $500 million a year ago.

The average net worth is $1.2 billion, up from $1.05 billion.

The average net worth of the 16 billionaires on the list is $2.2 billion, up from $1.75 billion.

The cumulative wealth of the top 50 weighs in at $60 billion, up 14 percent.

In the world of big money, of course, everything is relative. Like really, really big money. The $60 billion total is more or less on par with the individual fortune of that Seattle guy Bill Gates. By comparison, L.A.'s wealthiest individual, Gary Winnick, has about $54 billion worth of catching up to do.

"No question about it, this was a very strong year in the local and national economies," said Jean Tardy-Vallernaud, managing director of Citibank's private bank for Southern California. "It's part of a worldwide phenomenon where large transactions have enabled the very wealthy to get wealthier."

The Business Journal's list of the 50 richest Angelenos is based on information collected from an array of public documents, company records and Wall Street data. It also includes interviews with the principals themselves (when they agreed to be interviewed), their representatives, acquaintances, competitors and others who might have knowledge of their financial dealings.

When calculating the wealth of those who made most of their money in privately held companies or diversified financial vehicles the Business Journal determines, when possible, the market value of their holdings, be it companies, real estate or other assets. In cases in which the wealth of a candidate could not be confidently determined, the person was dropped from the list. And there were more than a dozen in that category.

Nine of this year's 50 richest weren't even on the 1998 list, a telling indicator of the amount of new wealth being accumulated in L.A.

"The fact that there are so many newcomers shows just how vibrant the economy is," said Esmael Adibi, director of the Anderson Center for Economic Research at Chapman University. "L.A. has become a center for entrepreneurs maybe not on the scale of Silicon Valley, but still impressive. These new entrants to the list are benefiting from new products and ventures."

What's striking about this year's list is that so much money has been made so quickly. "The overwhelming majority of new wealth creation that we are seeing is being created from these liquidity events," said Dan Genter, president and chief executive of RNC Capital Management in Brentwood. "They may set some of this new wealth aside for savings, but the rest of the time, they are out looking for new businesses to invest in, to realize even more growth."

Three of the new entrants come from one company: Global Crossing Ltd., the fiber-optic cable company that has come out of nowhere to become an international telecommunications powerhouse.

"All of a sudden, telecommunications is a red-hot industry," said Jack Kyser, chief economist with the Economic Development Corp. of Los Angeles County. "This is not an industry you would normally associate with L.A., but these entrepreneurs know that there is access to technology and to content here, and that's what attracts them."

The tremendous rise in Global Crossing's value is also responsible for creating L.A.'s new king of wealth: Gary Winnick, whose net worth has soared in the past year from $1 billion to $6.2 billion. (It's expected to explode to nearly $9 billion once Global Crossing completes its acquisitions of Frontier Corp. and U.S. West Inc.) Winnick takes the No. 1 slot that was held last year by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who moved to New York following a divorce filing.

Of course, much of Winnick's wealth is on paper, subject to the vicissitudes of the stock market. And that's a moving target. Despite Wall Street's astounding run-up over the past 12 months, a number of wealthy Angelenos have seen their net worth take a significant dip as a result of poorly performing stocks, including Barron Hilton (Hilton Hotels Corp.), George Joseph (Mercury General Corp.) and David Murdock (Dole Food Co.)

Indeed, Global Crossing stock has slid somewhat in recent days after the company announced plans to merge with US West in a highly complex deal.

Marvin Davis, by comparison, remains in the No. 2 spot ($4.7 billion) by sticking to the tried-and-true a highly diverse portfolio of real estate, energy and securities.

Coming in third is perhaps L.A.'s most visible billionaire, Eli Broad, who doubled his net worth to $4.3 billion after selling SunAmerica Inc. to AIG International. He was among several on the list whose wealth jumped as a result of major transactions.

"We're in the middle of a merger-and-acquisition frenzy," Kyser said. "Right now, these things are really hot. But five years down the road, these deals must be revisited to see if they have been profitable."

Rounding out the top five are two entertainment moguls: David Geffen of DreamWorks SKG, who saw his net worth increase from $2.1 billion to $2.3 billion, and A. Jerrold Perenchio of Univision Communications Inc., whose net worth jumped from $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion.

In fact, 11 of the 50 richest Angelenos have made all or part of their fortunes in the entertainment industry. They include Steven Spielberg, Merv Griffin, Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Norman Lear, Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner.

Another 11 have obtained much of their wealth through investments and financial services. Those include Broad, Joseph, Franklin Otis Booth, Charles Munger, Michael Milken and Robert Day.

Eight of the 50 have made a substantial part of their fortunes in real estate. They include Murdock, Guilford Glazer and Edward Roski Jr.

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