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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. (Microsoft photo)

Bill Gates’ investments in the Mexican stock market helped to increase his estimated wealth by $3 billion, to $56 billion, keeping him at No. 2 in the Forbes ranking of the world’s billionaires, released by the magazine today.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer held steady in net worth at $14.5 billion, but slipped on the list from No. 33 a year ago to 46 this year as others climbed past him.

“Microsoft chief can’t get respect,” Forbes writes in its summary of the trends affecting Ballmer’s wealth. “Latest version of Windows OS is the fastest-selling ever, with 300 million copies sold in its first year and impressive business adoption. Office software selling swiftly to consumers. And after a string of consumer failures, found a hit in controller-free gaming device Kinect. But stock lags: down 7% from a year ago.”

Gates, meanwhile, has been steadily dropping his Microsoft stake in recent years to diversify his portfolio. He currently owns about 7 percent of the company’s shares, down from almost 14 percent a decade ago. That reduction has proven to be good thing for his personal pocketbook, given the company’s stagnant share price over the past 10 years.

As noted earlier this week, Gates’ wealth would be considerably higher if not for his philanthropy through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Ballmer, who owned 4.75 percent of the company as of last year, has been more sparing in his Microsoft stock sales but recently sold about $2 billion worth of his holdings for portfolio diversification and tax planning.

According to Forbes’ estimates, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen saw his net worth slip from $13.5 billion to $13 billion, falling from No. 37 to 57 on the list. That put him behind Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, with a net worth of $13.5 billion, at No. 52 on the list. [Note: Allen’s numbers corrected since original post.]

Telecom tycoon Carlos Slim Helu of Mexico is once again atop the list with an estimated net worth of $74 billion.

Other notable techies on the list include Larry Ellison, whose net worth rose $11.5 billion to $39.5 billion, putting him at No. 5 overall, thanks to an increase in Oracle shares. Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin were also in the top 25, at $19.8 billion. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is No. 30, at $18.1 billion, up $5.8 billion from a year ago.

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