Every year at this time, we at Forbes magazine publish a list of the world's billionaires. This year, Carlos Slim of Mexico took the top honors, marking the first time in 16 years that the richest person in the world is not an American. In fact, there are only three Americans in the top 10 this year. The top 10 also include two Indians, a Brazilian, and three Europeans.
Those who made the list have demonstrated an uncanny ability to invest well, which brings up an interesting question. Can you, too, get rich by investing like the rich? The results of a research study out of Babson College suggest you can.
In a yet unpublished paper, Professor Joel Shulman examines the holdings of 1,125 entrepreneurs who made the Forbes billionaires list during the period April 1996 to March 2009. He identifies 495 publicly traded companies that represent major investments for these ultra-rich individuals. He was able to secure reliable data on 200 companies that trade on 41 different exchanges across 22 countries. His conclusion? Investing in these 200 companies during the period studied would have generated an annualized return of just over 20%. That compares to only a 1-2% annual return for relevant benchmarks.
Of course, what worked in the past may not work in the future. Yet entire hedge funds have been created to implement strategies based on much flimsier evidence. This one certainly seems worth a try.