Billionaire list inadequacy: no laughing matter | FT Alphaville

Billionaire list inadequacy: no laughing matter

FT Alphaville has already written about Bloomberg’s billionaire list, which greatly impressed us by making the rival Forbes list seem classy by comparison.

But no longer.

Not because Bloomberg has classed itself up, but because Forbes has decided to enter the billionaire-list race to the tacky with its own real-time list of 50 billionaires with updates every 15 minutes. (Via Dealbook.)

Bloomberg’s daily update includes a mere 20 billionaires. Pathetic.

Look, to the extent that you give a toss, we know what you’re wondering: are the lists accurate?

Probably not. From Dealbook (our emphasis):

Both Bloomberg and Forbes have released explanations of their methodology. Bloomberg says that its list relies on a mixture of public and private data, with the valuations of private companies being calculated relative to public competitors, and with a “liquidity discount” of 5 percent applied to companies whose “assets may be hard to sell.” Forbes says it relies on interviews with accountants, advisers and lawyers to compile its list, and takes into account “stakes in public and private companies, real estate, yachts, art and cash” while accounting for debt. Bloomberg says it makes no assumptions about personal debt.

Even with those considerations, the lists capture only paper wealth — the kind that can be tracked by running publicly available information through a mathematical model — and also the kind that tends to fluctuate wildly day to day.

And better still:

Both Forbes and Bloomberg try to increase the accuracy of their lists by talking to the billionaires themselves. But letting billionaires weigh in on their own worth introduces other risks, namely, the possibility of dishonesty.

“We don’t assume anyone’s telling us the exact truth,” Randall Lane, the editor of Forbes, said in an interview by phone on Thursday about his magazine’s methodology. “Some want to be higher, some want to be lower. That’s part of the fun.”

“We try to be exact,” Mr. Lane said. “But even the people themselves, unless it’s someone who is 100 percent in publicly traded stock, you don’t know what your assets are worth.”

So, we ask, what on earth is the point?

“It’s less about the number, per se,” [Lane] said. “This is a scorecard of who the most important people are.”

If not a very accurate one.

Related links:
Price the rich, real time – FT Alphaville
The Billionaire List Wars – Dealbook
Bloomberg Billionaire List – Bloomberg