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World's richest man speaks

world Updated: Mar 16, 2010 23:30 IST
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With more than 200 businesses, Carlos Slim Helu shapes virtually every industry under the Mexican sol. He's got interests in telecom, retail, energy, tourism and banking.

Some folks in Mexico, where the average income is $13,200 (less than 0.0000003% of Slim's $53.5 billion fortune), resent the mogul for being the richest man in the world. Slim has another take on commanding a staggering fortune. To him, it is a billionaire's civic duty to leverage one's resources into more wealth.

"Wealth, either public or private, should be managed with efficiency, promoting through reinvestment economic growth," he told Forbes Wednesday, the day our most recent list of the World's Billionaires was released.

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"Managing wealth means responsibility and commitment to create more wealth and, through more employment and the generation of tax revenues, boost the distribution of the fruits--that is, of income."

Those fruits will likely multiply in the coming decade, as global capital continues to shift to emerging markets, particularly China and Latin America. Slim is bullish on his region, hypothesizing that the great influx in wealth will elevate Latin America, pulling more people out of poverty.

Slim's bold prediction for the decade: "Latin America is close to breaking the underdevelopment barrier, of around $12,000 of income per capita. It seems to me that this should happen in the next 10 years."

He continues: "The developing countries in Latin America have available both internal and external financial resources, better terms of trade on their exports of primary goods and competitive advantages thanks to the availability and production of commodities, tourism and a modern industrial sector."

Not everyone is as bullish. After several decades of tepid growth, Latin America's economy is expected to expand between 3% and 4.5% in 2010.

The more optimistic economists, however, argue that the region's growth will be buttressed by a multitude of factors weighing in Latin America's favor. Unlike its more developed counterparts, the region only experienced collateral damage from the credit crunch.

"Latin America has bounced back strongly," says Jerome Booth, head of research at Ashmore Investment Management. "Latin America's banks are already taking market share from U.S. and European competitors." That's more good news for Slim, who has a 55% stake in Inbursa Bank, one of Mexico's largest financial firms.

Slim says the dichotomy between the developed and emerging worlds will be amplified in the coming years, as developed economies continue to wrestle with their "financial systems, fiscal and financial deficits and their transition to a society of advanced services in which excessive imports of goods are not compensated by other revenues and have to be financed by foreign savings."

Slim did not say which of his holdings he believes will outperform in Latin America's emergence. But regardless of whether it's telecom or energy that drives Slim's portfolio to $60 billion and beyond, the Latin American growth story will present great opportunity and challenge for the world's richest man as he navigates a rapidly changing marketplace with more sophisticated competitors.

As Nick Chamie, the global head of emerging markets research for Royal Bank of Canada, puts it, "It's not so much how Slim affects Latin America, it's much more about recognizing that the development of Latin American nations will have a greater affect on Carlos Slim."