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Jack Ma Falls From First to Fifth on List of China’s Wealthy

Alibaba founder sees $23 billion of wealth disappear over last year, Alex Frew McMillan notes.

An updated list of China’s wealthiest individuals is out, and Jack Ma -- founder of global ritual behemoth Alibaba BABA -- is no longer on top..

This is according to the Hurun China Rich List for 2021, where bottled-water and biotech billionaire Zhong Shanshan leads the wealthiest roster for the first time. 

“China has a new richest person, with Alibaba Group Holding figurehead Jack Ma slipping down the ranks of China’s ‘Most Wealthy’ list,” said RealMoney’s Alex Frew McMillan recently on Real Money.

McMillan has a few thoughts on the billionaires that lead the list, which has expanded in recent years. (The China Rich List includes anyone worth more than 2 billion yuan, ($313 million). The ranks of the rich swelled 22% in China over the course of the last year, to 2,918 people. That is three times the number of a decade ago.

--- Nongfu Spring (HK:9633) bottled-water tycoon Zhong Shanshan tops the ranking for the first time, with a net worth of US$60.5 billion.

“That's despite shares in Nongfu Spring, the mineral water with "prestige" frosted-glass illustrated bottles that are popular at political and corporate meetings, falling 40.5% since a peak on Jan. 8,” McMillan said. “Parent Yangshengtang or YST, which also owns a drug company, listed Nongfu Spring in Hong Kong in September 2020, an IPO that I covered at the time saying "do not buy this stock." I still stand by that advice.``

--- TikTok co-founder Zhang Yiming tripled his worth over the course of the last year to land in second place, with a fortune of US$52.8 billion.

“Zhang said in May that he would step down as CEO of TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, at the age of 38, conceding he doesn't like managing people and would prefer to focus on strategy,” McmIllan noted.

Still, Zhang is a likely No. 1 in the future, Hurun says, particularly if ByteDance sells shares to the public. “It’s been exploring options for a listing in Hong Kong, perhaps next year for Chinese-language TikTok version Douyin, with its interest dimming in selling shares either in Shanghai or New York,” McMillan said.

--- The woes of the real-estate industry are also reflected starkly in the rankings.

“There are, for the first time, no mainland property magnates among the 10-richest Chinese people,” McMillan noted. “Hong Kong's richest person, Li Ka-shing, is in eighth place at US$33.4 billion, a fortune from the conglomerate Cheung Kong based partly on real estate and partly on infrastructure such as ports and telecoms.”

--- China Evergrande Group (EGRNY) (HK:3333) founder Hui Ka-yan, known as Xu Jiayin in Mandarin Chinese, saw his fortunes fall by the largest dollar amount, his tally shrinking to the tune of US$25 billion. “Once the richest person in Asia, he now has a net worth of US$11.3 billion, causing a plunge from fifth place to 70 in the ranking,” McMillan added.

--- Jack Ma was next among the "biggest losers," his total down US$23 billion.

“The decline in the share price of Alibaba hurt, the company's 46.4% one-year fall helping to halve his fortune to US$22.6 billion,” McMillan said. “That put him in fifth place, after he topped the previous three rankings.”

According to the list, China has added one U.S.-dollar billionaire per day over the course of the last 12 months. That brings the billionaire ranks to 1,185, up five times in a decade, Hurun points out.

“China until recently celebrated its entrepreneurs and tycoons, seen as carving out the Chinese dream,” McMillan added. “But with Chinese President Xi Jinping recently championing "common prosperity" and suggesting the need to redistribute wealth, its billionaires are now keeping a low profile.”

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