China’s ultra wealthy buffeted as trade war bites

China’s ultra wealthy saw their ranks thinned this year as the trade war with the US pummelled stocks and shredded billions of dollars of paper wealth, a survey showed Wednesday.

The number of China-based magnates with a net worth over ¥2-billion ($290-million) fell by 237 to 1 893 individuals this year, according to the annual ranking compiled by Shanghai-based luxury magazine publisher Hurun Report.

More than half of the richest Chinese saw their wealth shrink or remain unchanged during the year, the survey showed, while a record number of individuals were knocked from the rankings.

A 20% drop in the stock exchange, “on the back of a slowing economy and the US-China trade war, resulted in 456 drop-offs this year, the highest since records began twenty years ago,” said Hurun Report Chairman Rupert Hoogewerf.

Gone from the list are chemical industry magnate Zhu Shuangquan, lighting titan Zhang Yutao and electric components makers Zhong Xiaoping and wife Liu Qiuxiang, all of whom have seen their companies’ share prices sink this year.

The manufacturing sector has been hit particularly hard by US President Donald Trump’s tariffs on roughly half of China’s imports — and the proportion of those with fortunes made in the sector fell to 26.1% from 27.9% last year.

While the world’s second-largest economy still boasts the most dollar billionaires of any country in the world, their ranks thinned to 620 people, according to Hurun.

Ma back on top

Alibaba’s Jack Ma, on the other hand, saw his fortunes improve, retaking the mantle of China’s richest from real estate mogul Xu Jiayin, who dropped to number two.

Ma’s wealth shot up to $39-billion as his large stake in Ant Financial, operator of the world’s largest money market fund and a mobile payment Goliath, saw its valuation rise.

His endeavours also boosted the fortunes of 13 others who made the rich list on his coattails.

But Ma lags far behind American titans like Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, with Forbes recently valuing Bezos’ wealth at $112-billion.

Ma recently announced his planned retirement from the e-commerce giant he founded with plans to follow Gates down the path of philanthropy.

Chinese women saw their share of wealth shoot up, making up 28.7% of the list this year, a 20-year high, according to Hurun.

The richest woman was Yang Huiyan, heir to a property fortune, with a net worth of $22-billion.

Making it to the top in China is by no means a get out of jail free card — 12 individuals faced problems with the authorities, including nine under investigation, according to Hurun.

With a fortune estimated at ¥25-billion, Tomorrow Holdings owner Xiao Jianhua has not been seen since Chinese authorities whisked him across the border from a Hong Kong luxury hotel last year.

China’s Top Ten:

1 Jack Ma (Alibaba) & family $39-billion

2 Xu Jiayin (Evergrande) $36-billion

3 Pony Ma (Tencent) $35-billion

4 Yang Huiyan (Country Garden) $22-billion

5 Wang Jianlin (Wanda Group) & family $20-billion

6 He Xiangjian & He Jianfeng (Midea) $19-billion

7 Wang Wei (SF Express) $17.5-billion

8 Yan Hao (China Pacific Construction) & family $17.5-billion

9 Robin Li & Melissa Ma (Baidu) $17-billion

10 Lei Jun (Xiaomi) $16-billion

10 Wang Wenyin (Amer)& family $16-billion

© Agence France-Presse

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Ryan McMorrow
Ryan Mcmorrow

Ryan McMorrow was a China-based Fulbright Research Fellow. In his work documenting the lives of China’s peasant workers, he labored and lived in a Chinese foam factory, harvested wheat and planted rice on the plains of Henan, moved between construction sites, peddled fruit and ventured down into the coal-mines of Hunan. He has documented his stories on, his well-received blog, and is now working on sharing the stories with a wider audience. Prior to starting the Fulbright Scholarship, he spent two years in Northern China living with local Chinese learning Mandarin. In 2011, he graduated from UCLA with a dual degree in East Asian Studies and Political Science.

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