Image Credits: JAMEL TOPPIN/THE FORBES COLLECTION.
Reports that the celebrity is worth nearly $7 billion are based on the magical thinking around sales that don’t yet exist. This is why he’s currently worth less than one third of that.
On Wednesday, multiple outlets reported that Kanye West is the richest Black person in America, worth as much as $6.6 billion. The news comes after Bloomberg reported that his sneaker brand, Yeezy—as well as Yeezy Gap, which has yet to sell one stitch of clothing—have a combined value of as much as $4.7 billion. The publication mentioned, without going into full detail, an additional $1.7 billion in assets.
It’s not true, based on our calculations. Forbes estimates he’s worth less than a third of that, or $1.8 billion. That’s a big jump from last May when Forbes first pegged his net worth to be $1.3 billion, but nowhere near as much as the purported $6.6 billion. Vista Equity’s Robert F. Smith remains the richest Black person in the U.S., worth an estimated $6 billion, while Aliko Dangote of Nigeria, worth $11.8 billion, is the richest Black person in the world.
The sky-high estimate is the latest of West’s attempts to inflate his net worth—in the past he’s said that Forbes was “purposely snubbing me.”
In actuality, it’s nothing personal. The Bloomberg story cites a UBS report on his businesses—the same document Forbes saw earlier this month. The bank made a number of assumptions based on projected future earnings, particularly for Yeezy Gap, which hasn’t even launched yet. Bank documents like this are well-known for painting best-possible-scenario future valuations.
Forbes’ much more grounded number is based on that old-fashioned idea of current revenues—not theoretical future expectations. Yeezy Gap has brought in no revenue, let alone any profits. Who knows if the line will be popular? Maybe another hip-hop star will create the next trendy sneaker in a year or two, and Yeezys will be old news. The same thinking goes for Yeezy Supply, West’s e-commerce platform. He has high hopes to turn it into a fashion destination—as of now, it just shills his shoes.
As for Yeezy sneakers, they’re selling crazy well. The company’s revenue grew 30% last year. and its most recent limited drop, the 450 in Cloud White, sold out in under a minute. Analysts with who we spoke agree there’s growth left in the business, and if that occurs, his net worth will continue to climb. But even that’s not 100% certain, so for now, we are sticking with 2020’s numbers.
Forbes is treating West the same way we do everyone else with similar royalty-based businesses: We take the most recent year’s licensing income and apply a multiple to it to account for the fact that this is an ongoing revenue stream. This is exactly how we value Donald Trump’s licensing businesses and Jay-Z’s music catalogue.
West’s wildly optimistic approach to his net worth mirrors the approach used by Donald Trump, who insists the value of his name be included in any net-worth estimate. Trump, whom we value at $2.5 billion, says his brand has an intrinsic value, regardless of actual revenue. West and his camp are making a similar argument for businesses attached to the Yeezy name.
Here’s a breakdown of Forbes’ estimate of his net worth—which is quite impressive, even if it’s not as high as he wants (or thinks) it to be:
Yeezy: $1.5 billion
Still the crown jewel of his fortune, sales of West’s sneaker brand, which has a ten-year-long production deal with Adidas, climbed to $1.7 billion last year, up from $1.3 billion in 2019. As a result, West earned $191 million in royalties last year. It’s impressive growth. While UBS predicts the brand will reach over $3 billion in sales by 2026, and valued it accordingly, we went with 2020 numbers: The operating income of Yeezy, which is 100% owned by West, was $214 million in 2020. With a 9x multiple and 20% private company discount, Forbes calculates that the Yeezy business with Adidas is worth $1.5 billion, about $250 million more than it was a year ago.
Cash and other assets: $160 million
Thanks to the millions he’s made from Yeezy and his music, West has accumulated a nice-size pile of cash, as well as homes and toys. He owns more than $100 million in real estate—including multiple ranches in Wyoming and homes in the Los Angeles area. According to a balance sheet sent over by his team, there’s also $9.3 million worth of artwork, $7.6 million worth of jewelry, $5 million worth of vehicles, $3.4 million worth of furniture and $1 million worth of livestock. Along the way, he has also racked up a significant amount of debt: $56 million. We couldn’t track down every horse, chair and necklace, so again applied a discount to the numbers provided. We also didn’t include any value for the website Yeezy Supply, which West’s camp claims is worth $1.5 billion. Forbes counts its value via royalties of the Yeezy shoe sales made through the site in the Adidas deal.
Music catalogue: $90 million
While he may make most of his money as a fashion mogul, West started out as one of the world’s most popular rappers, and his catalogue of songs still brings in millions in royalties each year. Just like with Yeezy, he could cash out on that royalty stream, as musicians from Shakira to Bob Dylan have in the last year.
Skims: $64 million
West and his soon-to-be ex-wife Kim Kardashian West may have ended their marital relationship, but they maintain certain business ties. West has a small stake in his ex’s shape wear and loungewear company Skims, which has grown during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Yeezy x Gap: $0
While West’s team insists the Yeezy x Gap deal is worth about $1.5 billion and the Bloomberg story says it could be worth as much as $970 million, Forbes isn’t giving this any value until the products start to sell. The deal, announced in June, sent Gap’s stock soaring, and CEO Sonia Syngal spoke of its “big potential” in an earnings call earlier this month. But the line hasn’t sold one piece of clothing yet. (FORBES)