Mexican telecom mogul Carlos Slim Helú is close to taking the world’s richest man title back from Microsoft (NYSE:MSFT) cofounder Bill Gates. In May of 2013, Gates bumped Slim from his perch as world’s richest, a post Slim held between 2010 and 2013.
Slim finished Friday with net worth that Forbes estimated at $78.5 billion, just a hair behind Gates, whose net worth Forbes pegs at $78.9 billion. Slim’s phone giant América Móvil’s (NYSE:AMX) stock, his largest holding, rose sharply both in the U.S. and Mexican markets after the company’s surprise announcement of plans to divest some assets to comply with Mexico’s new antitrust telecom regulations.
América Movil‘s shares were sharply higher Wednesday of last week after news of the breakup. The company’s shares, which have languished the past year as a result of regulatory pressures in Mexico, jumped 10% on the NYSE the day following the breakup announcement. Slim’s divesting decision was widely hailed as a master move. It suggests that Slim is determined to stay ahead of the game by not allowing government regulators to dictate to him how and when to divest to reduce his phone market share below 50% as the new laws mandate. Currently, Slim’s América Móvil controls 70% of the mobile phone market in Mexico, and 80% of landlines.
According to Mexico’s Banorte bank, the breakup decision could eliminate the negative impact of the regulations imposed on América Móvil. Under the new rules, América Móvil will be forced to allow calls from competing networks without charge and to share its network infrastructure with other operators. As of 2015, operators wouldn’t be able to charge domestic long-distance fees.
Between July 1 and July 11, Slim’s wealth jumped from $74.5 billion to $78.5 billion, a gain of $4 billion in 10 business days.
The decision to sell assets in América Móvil, which operates in 26 countries with 292 million wireless subscribers and 70 million fixed-line subscribers, generated speculation as to the potential buyer or buyers. Asked by Reuters last week, Slim declined to name possible buyers. He did say that the company would likely sell the assets to a single buyer and he will pursue expansion into Central and Eastern Europe through America Movil’s investment in Telekom Austria. Slim also declined to name a price for the sale, though he said it would happen as soon as the next six months.
Yet according to Mexico’s Grupo Financiero Banamex, the sales of assets is expected to bring América Móvil $7.5 billion, and $3.4 billion more from the possible sale of its cell phone towers. The buyer will most likely be a foreign company. Press reports have mentioned as possible interested parties Deutsche Telekom, Hawaii Technologies Co., China Mobile and AT&T, but none of the firms have commented on their future plans.
Slim lost his No. 1 position in Forbes World’s Billionaire list 14 months ago after América Móvil’s stock dropped sharply, fueled by fears that Mexico’s new anti-trust regulations would badly hurt his business interests. Yet it appears Slim managed to turn around for the time being what was seen as a potential major blow to his telecom empire.
If the gap between Gates’ and Slim’s net worth continues to narrow this week, the Mexican tycoon could end up on top of the money race once again.