Lex Luthor's Wealth Compared To The Real World's Richest People

Illustration for article titled Lex Luthors Wealth Compared To The Real Worlds Richest People

Everyone in Metropolis knows that Lex Luther is a very wealthy man, perhaps even the very wealthiest. But just where would he stand next to the real world's richest people?

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After watching Neil Degrasse Tyson illustrate the size of Bill Gates' fortune by calculating how much a second of his time was worth, some commenters pointed out that a similar calculation had once been made in a Superman comic for Lex Luthor. And, using that figure, we could estimate the size of Luthor's fortune:

slugboy70

He got this from a Superman comic-

Lois and Jimmy do this math about Lex Luthor!

They low-balled it- $150 per second

Chamomiles Davis

...Or about $4.73 billion annually.

So where would that sum put Lex Luthor in our economy?

Not in the world's top ten richest people, which according to Forbes cashes out at around $36 billion. Nor even in the top 100. It actually would land him at about spot #330, not a paltry placing at all, but certainly not among the world's very richest.

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Of course, Luthor may also has some secret stores of wealth unaccounted for by this rough calculation. Certainly his kryptonite stash is worth something. Or perhaps the Metropolis stock market has been doing a little better than our own.

On the other hand, attempting to defeat Superman is undoubtedly an expensive hobby, even for a billionaire.

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DISCUSSION

szielins
Stephan Zielinski

Gotta watch your units. $150 per second becomes $4.73 billion per year. Forbes' list of people with a great deal of money lists not how much more they acquire per year, but how much they currently have. Hence, Bill Gates' $77.6 billion net worth is not directly comparable to Luthor's $4.73 billion per year; "dollars" is a different unit than "dollars/second".

We could approximately compute how large a pile of owned stuff would appreciate at $150/second as the result of inflation. As I type this, inflation for the last 12 months in the USA was about 2.0%. If Luthor's holdings' nominal value is increasing at $4.73 billion/year, we can guesstimate that he owns about ($4.73 billion / .02) = $236 billion worth of stuff (like objects and not-highly-profitable corporations), plus whatever liquid currency he has lying around in checking accounts and whatnot.

But Luthor's an active businessman; he's not just sitting around passively owning stuff. So another possibility is the +$4.73 billion/year means Luthor owns a large and profitable corporation, and $4.73 billion is the corporation's profits. Let's postulate LexCorp has about the same profit-to-equity ratio as did Exxon Mobil in 2012. XOM's raw profit was about $44.8 billion in 2012, so Luthor's pulling in as much as we'd expect him to have from owning 10.6% of XOM outright. Thing is, XOM's equity was only $334 billion at the end of 2012. So it could be Luthor merely has 100% of the stock of a corporation about as profitable as is XOM, but much smaller— worth only $35.4 billion. A net worth like that would not make Forbes' top ten list for 2014.

Similarly, if LexCorp is the size of XOM and Luthor owns about 10.6% of the stock (ignoring any possible preferred share versus common share shenanigans), that could about account for his pocketing $4.73 billion/year— his fair share of the corporation's profits. (Actually doing this would be tricky— it'd require LexCorp to be paying all its profits out as dividends— but this is where some sort of preferred stock system or really creative executive compensation package would be useful. Or maybe LexCorp pays $9.46 billion to LLCLLC LLC in the Cayman Islands in exchange for $4.73 billion worth of goods and services, and Luthor owns 100% of LLCLLC LLC. He's a genius; he can work something out.)

Or we could split the difference. Luthor could own (A) $118 billion worth of land, buildings, art, blue chip stocks, and other random crap that about retains its value without providing much more income than it costs in property taxes and operating expenses, plus (B) $17.7 billion (5.3%) of (XOM-sized) LexCorp. $135.7 billion is an appropriately supervillain-sized wad, while still being within a factor of two of Bill Gates. A portfolio like that— one asset providing liquid money to work with, with his other holdings merely retaining their value and maintaining themselves— accounts for Luthor's desire to keep LexCorp profitable and his need to appear more-or-less sane to the other stockholders; that he's only a large stockholder rather than a 51% owner explains the occasional control-of-LexCorp troubles. (And of course, the $118 billion of random crap accounts for his having a mansion in every city in which he wants one, hot and cold running 747s, ownership of laboratories that never turn a profit but occasionally yield ray guns, and so forth.)