NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- What the financial crisis taketh away, it giveth -- if you're a billionaire, that is. And especially if you're a billionaire named Carlos "Slim" Helu pictured below , who for the first time nabbed the number one spot on Forbes' list of the world's fattest cats.
Carlos Slim Helu
Cratering financial markets last winter (banking crises, bursting asset bubbles, the severest economic downturn since the Great Depression) wiped out wealth on a torrential scale. On Forbes' 2009 list, Slim's net worth, for instance, plunged to $35 billion from 2008's bubble-inflated $60 billion, one of the steepest declines of any billionaire that year. But last March, as everyone knows, the equities markets began what would become a roaring rally. The great bull bounce-back of the second half of 2009 had an obvious effect: it returned value to the paper wealth of the world's plutocrats, since most of the people on the list have vast holdings in the publicly traded companies they founded and in many instances still control. >>Stockpickr Portfolio: The Richest People in the World Slim -- the overlord, essentially, of the Mexican cell-phone system -- saw his fortune increase by $18.5 billion to $53.5 billion, according to Forbes' research, edging out perennial No. 1 Bill Gates by a measly half a billion dollars. (For this year's list, Forbes judged each billionaire's wealth as of Feb. 12.) How did Slim do it? Not from his high-profile investment in The New York Times ( NYT), a move that foisted the self-made titan into the American spotlight, though the transaction certainly helped. Shares of the Times have more than tripled in value since last March, when the company was struggling under a heavy debt load and before Slim stepped in to assist. His most important holding is the Latin American telecom empire he has built over the last 20 years: America Movil ( AMX). Since last March, its American depositary receipts have ripped higher by 58% -- buoying Slim's kitty until it's become the planet's most valuable, at least according to the reckoning of Forbes, which each year assigns a platoon of cub reporters to do nothing but dig into the books of the billionaires.