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Oracle's Ellison Challenges Gates for Riches Title

PALO ALTO, Calif. (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates was in danger of being eclipsed as the world's richest man by Oracle Corp. Chairman Larry Ellison on Monday after a sharp drop in Microsoft shares.

Dragged down by a disappointing sales forecast and investor concerns that the world's biggest software firm might be broken up by regulators, Microsoft (NasdaqNM:MSFT - news) stock plunged 12- 5/16 to 66- 5/8 on the Nasdaq. That brought the value of Gates' 742 million Microsoft shares to $49.4 billion.

Ellison, 56, was nipping at the heels of Gates, who is 44. His company's stock staged a late-day rally and ended up 1- 5/8 at 72- 7/16, valuing Ellison's 663 million shares at $48 billion. The figures are based on the number of shares the most recent Securities and Exchange Commission filings show Gates and Ellison owning.
Reuters Photo
Reuters Photo

While Microsoft stock is down 45 percent from its year high, Oracle (NasdaqNM:ORCL - news) stock has surged 544 percent from its year low of 11- 1/4 amid increasing optimism that the world's second-largest independent software company will benefit from the rise of the Internet and business-to-business electronic commerce.

Oracle is the biggest maker of database software, which stores, catalogs and manages vast amounts of digital data and is also one of the largest makers of business management software that helps automate functions such as call centers and supply chain management.

The plunge in Microsoft stock on Monday shaved about $10 billion from Gates' fortune. He owns 15 percent of the Redmond, Wash.-based company. Both men have sizable holdings outside of their stakes in the respective companies, but those holdings comprise the bulk of their net worth.

Several Wall Street analysts cut their earnings and revenue estimates for Microsoft after the company reported fiscal third-quarter results last week and its chief financial officer told investors to expect revenue growth of around 15 percent, down from prior forecasts above 20 percent.

In Oracle's most recent quarter, reported March 14, sales rose 18 percent and operating profit surged 80 percent to $498 million, or 17 cents a share.

The surge in Oracle's stock price appears to have vaulted Ellison into the No. 2 spot among the world's richest people. Investor Warren Buffett, 69, chairman of holding company Berkshire Hathaway Inc., was listed as the second-richest man in the world by Forbes Magazine in 1999. His 477,166 shares of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRKa - news) are valued at $28.6 billion.


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