Business

China lost 161 billionaires because its stock markets tanked

Posted February 27, 2019 2:57 a.m. EST
Updated February 27, 2019 7:19 a.m. EST

— China's recent stock market turmoil has dealt a heavy blow to the ranks of its super-rich.

The number of billionaires in Greater China, which includes Taiwan and Hong Kong, plunged by 161 in the past year, according to wealth research firm Hurun Report.

Chinese fortunes were squeezed last year by a plunge of more than 25% in the country's stock markets and a slump in the country's currency, Hurun said Tuesday as it published its Global Rich List.

Chinese financial markets were rocked in 2018 by fears over the country's slowing economy and its damaging trade war with the United States. Analysts expect economic growth to bottom out later this year.

The number of Chinese billionaires fell from 819 to 658 in the year ended January 31, according to Hurun. Despite the big drop, the country is still home to more billionaires than the United States, which has 584, an increase of 13, according to Hurun.

Among the biggest losers in China were Ma Huateng, the CEO of internet giant Tencent, whose fortune slumped 19% to $38 billion. Shares in Tencent were hit hard by a freeze in Chinese approvals for many of its money-making games.

Dalian Wanda Group's Wang Jianlin, once China's richest man, suffered a 37% plunge in net worth to $17 billion. Wang, who once boasted about his sprawling global business empire, has been more focused in recent years on selling off assets from his real estate and entertainment conglomerate.

Jack Ma and others get richer

Some Chinese billionaires thrived amid the turmoil, though.

Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce company Alibaba, enjoyed a rise of more than 20% in his wealth to $39 billion, making him China's richest man. Ma's fortune rose last year thanks to a sharp increase in the value of Alibaba's online payments affiliate, Ant Financial.

He is still a long way behind the world's richest man, Jeff Bezos. Hurun pegs the Amazon chief's net worth at $147 billion.

A series of big Chinese IPOs also catapulted new names into the ranks of the super-rich.

Zhang Yong is now the richest restaurant owner in the world after his Chinese hot pot chain, Haidilao, went public in Hong Kong last year. Zhang is worth an estimated $8.8 billion.

Another new entrant is Zhang Yiming, the founder of internet startup ByteDance. The company, which is behind a bunch of popular social media apps like TikTok, is now reportedly valued at about $75 billion.

"Despite the slowdown in the Chinese economy, there is significant innovation going on, shown by China having more new faces than any other country in the world," said Rupert Hoogewerf, Hurun Report's chairman.

The Hurun index measures individual wealth as of January 31. That leaves out that the impact of February's rebound in Chinese stocks, which has been driven by hopes of more stimulus measures from the Chinese government and optimism about a potential deal to end the trade war.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite index is up nearly 14% since the start of February.