Xu Jiayin, Chairman and founder of Chinese property developer Evergrande Group (EGRNY) , has had a good 2017.
The businessman was on Thursday named China's richest person with a net worth of $43 billion, including about $30 billion amassed in the past six months, after shares of Evergrande climbed 482% since the start of the year on the back of China's unflagging property boom and on widely reported plans to list on the Shenzen market.
Xu, age 59, beat Ma Huateng, 46, the founder and CEO of tech firm Tencent Holdings Ltd. (TCTZF) to the top spot by a comfortable $6 billion, despite an impressive 52% increase in the tech entrepreneurs fortune which rose to $37 billion. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd's (BABA) Jack Ma came in third with an estimated wealth of $30 billion, down 2% year-on-year, according to the Hurun Report, which has been tracking China's biggest fortunes since 1999.
Xu's rise to the top of the rich list has been a rapid and bumpy one. He founded Evergrande in 1996, was saved from collapse during the 2008 financial crisis by a capital injection from a Hong Kong billionaire, and then listed the business in Hong Kong in 2009, raising about HK$5.6 billion ($717 million) in an initial public offering.
Xu then saw little change in his fortune until this year when Evergrande's stock price rocketed, boosted by a HK$6.3 billion share buyback, an almost 464% increase in core profits for the first six months of the year, and those Shenzen listing rumors. The upshot for Xu was an almost four-fold increase in the value of his more than 70% holding in the company.
Despite its recent strength Evergrande remains a controversial company. Its growth has been underpinned by a debt-fueled spending spree, that included 152 new projects in the first half of this year. Evergrande's net gearing, or net loans to equity value, stood at about 240% at the end of the first half of 2017, down from a whopping 432% at the end of 2016, though the improvement has mainly been due to the increase in its equity value rather than repayments of loans.
That heavy debt burden, combined with illiquid trading, due to a small free float, continues to make the company a favorite among short sellers.
Also of note on the Chinese rich list was Yang Huiyan, 36, the biggest shareholder in property developer Country Garden Holdings Co. Ltd (CTRYF) and China's richest woman. Her wealth tripled over the past year to $24 billion, securing her position at No.4.
The youngest member among the top 10 was Yan Hao, 31, whose nickname 'Road King' comes from his position as chairman of freeway builder Pacific Construction Group Co. Ltd. His fortune, which he shares with his family, grew 15% over the past year to $17 billion boosted by China's massive 'One Belt One Road' infrastructure investment program.
China's billionaires still have some way to go to top the global rankings of the world's richest people. Bill Gates, the Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) founder, heads up that ranking, according to Forbes compilation, with a net worth of $88.8 billion.
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