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Rich list grows but getting up there on top is harder

2010-10-29 11:04

Pharmaceuticals are in, real estate is out, food and hotels are the future

SHANGHAI - There are 49 more billionaires in China now than at this time last year, pushing the number to 128, with nine below the age of 40, and 11 of them women.

Consumer goods manufacturers, pharmaceutical producers and technology magnates rose over the past year, while property developers fell, thanks to the government's market-cooling policies.

This is the news from Forbes Asia magazine, which published its annual list of China's 400 richest (calculated in US dollars) on Thursday. It said that China's wealthiest are getting richer: the minimum needed to make the top 400 list has risen to $425 million from last year's $300 million.

"China is leading the world in initial public offerings (IPO) this year. The explosion of wealth and the number of billionaires this year is closely linked to the large number of IPOs by Chinese companies in the past year," said Russell Flannery, a senior editor at Forbes and chief of its Shanghai Bureau.

The southern boom town of Shenzhen leads the pack with 17 billionaires, followed by Beijing, with 15 and Shanghai, 10.

Topping the list is 65-year-old Zong Qinghou, chairman of the leading food and beverage company Wahaha Group, whose wealth has jumped to $8 billion from $4.8 billion. Zong also topped the Hurun Rich List 2010, which came out earlier this month.

Last year's richest man Wang Chuanfu, 44, dropped to No 10, after losing over $1.5 billion and ending up with $4.25 billion. He is the founder of BYD, 10 percent of which is held by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway.

Wang's company was reported to be having troubles with production delays. Its falling stock price also pulled co-founder Lu Xiangyang down to No 22 from last year's No 4.

Robin Li, co-founder of search engine Baidu Inc, follows Zong in second place, with $7.2 billion, while third place is held by Liang Wengen, co-founder of the heavy machinery manufacturer Sany Group, with a net worth of $5.9 billion.

"The 42-year-old Li's estimated fortune has nearly doubled in the past year thanks to the world's biggest population of Internet users. Google shut down its mainland search service, and shares of Baidu soared 143 percent in the past year," said Zhou Jiangong, editor-in-chief of Forbes China.

"Liang, 53, listed his second company in Hong Kong at the end of last year; its shares are up 157 percent," Zhou said.

Journalist-turned-property tycoon Wu Yajun is now the country's richest woman, coming in at No 8 on the list, up from No 29 last year. She has a net worth of $4.7 billion, which is shared with her family. Shares in Wu's Long for Properties have been up 30 percent since it went public at the Hong Kong Exchanges last year.

At the same time, since the government worked hard to cool the property boom, the rankings of property tycoons were understandably lower this year. For example, Lu Zhiqiang, head of the China Oceanwide Holdings Group, had one of the sharpest falls to No 31, from No 16 last year.

Another thing worth noting is that 10 percent of China's 400 richest get all or part of their fortune from the healthcare sector. Among these, Li Li, 46, is the richest newcomer this year, at No 5, with $5.4 billion. Li is head of the Shenzhen Hepalink Pharmaceutical Company, which went public in May.

"China's sustained economic growth and the appreciation of the renminbi will produce an even bigger number of billionaires at a stunning speed in the coming years," Zhou added.

He said that the economic restructuring will put more people on the list from the pharmaceutical sector and fewer from real estate.

"Thanks to domestic consumer spending, there will be more tycoons from the food and beverage industry, chain restaurants and luxury hotels. Their presence on the rich list is still quite small now, compared to their US counterparts," Zhou said.

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