Mon | Dec 18, 2017

Property tycoon tops China's rich list, Wanda boss slides

Published:Friday | October 13, 2017 | 12:00 AM
In this June 12, 2015 photo, Evergrande China founder Xu Jiayin attends a news conference for the Guangzhou Evergrande soccer team in Guangzhou in southern China's Guangdong Province.

Property tycoon Xu Jiayin has vaulted to the top of a Chinese rich list after his wealth quadrupled, knocking Wang Jianlin off his longtime position at No. 1.

The Hurun Report, China's best-known list of its wealthiest people, estimated that wealth held by Xu, founder of developer Evergrande, surged to US$43 billion, moving him up nine places from last year.

Another property mogul, Yang Huiyan of developer Country Garden, rose 18 spots to fourth place as her fortune more than tripled to US$24 billion.

Wang, head of real estate and leisure conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group, fell from first to fifth place as his wealth shrank 28 per cent to US$23 billion, the report said. He had held the top spot since 2013.

The changes reflect how savvy real estate investors have benefited from soaring Chinese property prices that have driven apartment sales and boosted their companies' share prices, even as Beijing has sought to cool the market, Hurun CEO Rupert Hoogewerf said.

"They've put a lot of their eggs in that basket and they're reaping their rewards," Hoogewerf said.

Evergrande, based in the southern city of Guangzhou, is one of China's biggest property developers. Xu, 59, is known as an avid supporter of Chinese soccer and has invested in the sport domestically.

Familiar faces from China's tech industry rounded out the top five, with Pony Ma of Internet company Tencent moving up one place to second with US$37 billion in wealth as his company's shares rallied 60 per cent this year. He overtook Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, who slipped to third with US$30 billion after his stake in finance company Ant Financial was reduced.

Wang's slide reflects Beijing's efforts to tighten up on companies piling up debt to make marquee investments abroad and instead encourage entrepreneurs to focus on domestic growth.

Under Wang's leadership, Dalian Wanda started as a real estate developer and then branched out by acquiring a Hollywood studio, United States cinema chains, Spanish soccer teams and a British yacht maker.

But his global ambitions were thwarted as Beijing clamped down on outbound investment, both to rein in excessive spending on foreign entertainment and sports assets not seen as useful for developing China's economy and to avoid running down the country's foreign exchange reserves.

Hoogewerf said Wang's fortunes declined after he delisted Wanda from Hong Kong's stock exchange last year, missing out on a mini boom for Chinese developers.

Wanda's other woes include being forced to sell off most of its Chinese theme parks and hotels to rivals and failing to follow through on its proposed acquisition of Dick Clark Productions.

Hurun turned up 647 Chinese billionaires in its 19th rich list, accounting for 36 per cent of the world total. As recently as 2003 the country had none. The latest report covered 2,130 mainland Chinese individuals worth at least US$300 million, but Hoogewerf said his researchers missed others who go to "extraordinary lengths" to hide their wealth.

"For every one we have found, we estimate there to be two that we have missed," he said.

The Shanghai firm publishes a monthly magazine and releases yearly rankings and research about the world's richest people and their spending habits.

- AP