23 October 2018
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos briefly became the world’s richest person last week. Photo: Bloomberg
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos briefly became the world’s richest person last week. Photo: Bloomberg

The curse of the richest

Becoming the richest person in China is sometimes said to be a curse.

Since property and entertainment tycoon Wang Jianlin was named the richest Chinese this year by Forbes, he appears to have been mired in a streak of bad luck.

Six of his overseas acquisition projects met with financing difficulties. The country’s banking regulator also reportedly ordered loan checks to assess the credit risks of Wang’s Wanda Group, forcing him to sell a portfolio of hotels and tourism projects to improve liquidity.

Following the setback, Wang’s personal wealth dropped by US$900 million to US$30.4 billion from early this year.

This supposed curse of the richest is not limited to China.

Bill Gates beat Warren Buffett to become the richest man in the United States in 1996, which also happened to the best year for Microsoft.

The software giant’s Windows system had cornered more than 90 percent of global market, while its other products like office and Internet Explorer were also dominating the market.

However, the US Department of Justice soon filed antitrust charges against Microsoft , saying that bundling of other programs into its operating system constituted monopolistic actions.

Microsoft lost the case in 1999 and a settlement took place in 2001. Microsoft pledged to open the internet market to other competitors.

The case, regarded by some as the most significant antitrust lawsuit in recent memory, marks a turning point in Microsoft’s history. Had it not been for the lawsuit, Microsoft might have been able to maintain its dominance in the internet era, and its market value might have been a lot bigger than it is now.

As the share prices of the so-called FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google) have skyrocketed in recent years, the antitrust issue has also become a major concern of their investors.

US President Donald Trump, during last year’s election campaign, criticized Amazon for “controlling so much of what they are doing” and said the company had “huge antitrust problem”.

The European Commission has probed Amazon for requiring publishers to offer it terms as good as or better than those they sign with other e-book distributors, calling it a problematic practice. If this issue is not handled well, Amazon could face heavy fines.

Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos briefly became the world’s richest person in Forbes’ ranking last week, with his personal wealth hitting US$90.9 billion, as his company’s shares continued to surge after staging a 40 percent rally over the past one year.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 28

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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