For a change, many of the world’s richest men did not get any richer this year.
Three of the top five – Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett and Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim – recorded declines in their net wealth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
The plunge in oil prices and the slowdown in China’s economic growth made this year very gloomy for tycoons, many of whom saw their first negative return in four years.
But that made success more sweeter for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, whose net worth surged from US$31 billion to US$59 billion this year, erasing a US$7.4 billion loss in 2014.
By comparison, his e-commerce rival Jack Ma, who has been making headlines almost every day, saw a correction of more than 25 percent in the shares of his flagship Alibaba Group in its second year of its listing.
If anyone got close to Bezos, it’s none other than property magnate Hui Ka-yan, the chairman of Evergrande Real Estate Group (03333.HK).
The 56-year-old tycoon saw his net worth grow to HK$67 billion after his property flagship surged 120 percent this year, propelling his wealth ranking to No. 7, behind the top four Hong Kong property tycoons and the two Ma’s of Chinese internet, Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Tencent’s Pony Ma.
Hui made headlines this month after buying assets from his two Hong Kong buddies – New World Development’s (00017.HK) Cheng Yu-tung and Chinese Estates’ (00127.HK) Joseph Lau Luen-hung – for HK$70 billion.
Yesterday, Hui acquired five mainland assets from Cheng Yu-tung’s private arm Chow Tai Fook for HK$20.4 billion, after paying HK$16.36 billion for three properties earlier this month.
Both acquisitions were paid either through installment or high-yield bonds.
The spending spree came after Hui’s Evergrande became the top property developer in terms of gross floor area sold, as it topped 200 billion yuan (US$30.8 billion) in sales.
This year also saw Hui’s Evergrande Health joining forces with Tencent to acquire 75 percent of Hong Kong-listed Mascotte Holdings, whose name was later changed to HengTen Networks.
It also marked the listing of Evergrande Taobao and Evergrande Culture Industry Group on the New Third Board in Shenzhen.
All these four listed subsidiaries produced strong performances this year, especially Evergrande Health, which took over New Media Group last December and surged 20 times within a year.
Indeed, Hui’s Evergrande was firing on all cylinders, creating a fast-growth conglomerate worth HK$200 billion, although the latest acquisitions raised its net gearing to 400 percent.
That’s a bit aggressive, even for a company known for its lightning speed in selling property projects.
As the Chinese saying goes, wealth is nothing but a shadow. From Jeff Bezos, we know that wealth comes in cycles.
We shall come back to see if Newton’s law of gravitation will apply to this year’s winner in 2016.
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