Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Forbes Billionaire List – 2013 Edition

Li Ka Shing – good reason to smile

It’s that time of year to feel puny again - the Forbes 2013 list of the world's most rich is out. Not surprisingly, given all the chatter about rising wealth inequality, billionaires as a class are richer than ever. This year, there are 1,426 of them, up from 1,226 last year, and they command $5.4 trillion in wealth. 2013 was a year when Asia surged up in its proportion of names, mainly on the strength of Hong Kong and China. Some initial statistics regarding Asia are as follows:
  • Non-Japan Asia (excluding Australia and New Zealand) had 334 names, up from 267 in 2012. Nevertheless, Asia continued to trail the US, which had 442 names and Europe, which had 366.
  • The geographic distribution of billionaires in Asia is in the chart below. After China (122) and India (55), Hong Kong with its measly 7 million population came in with a whopping 39 names. Singapore, which has approximately 70% of Hong Kong’s population, had 24. When it comes to wealthy, all hail the city states of Asia.

  • Superman Li Ka Shing of Hong Kong outshone all other Asians again, but by an even bigger margin than before. He moved up from 9th in the world to 8th, with a whopping $6 billion increase in net worth to $31 billion. No other Asian cracked the world’s top 20.
  • As with 2012, the next richest Asian was India’s Mukesh Ambani of the Reliance Group. However, given that his wealth dropped $1 billion, he only ranked 22nd. In general, the India names did not advance in 2013.
  • Other Hong Kong-related names, including Lee Shau Kee (Henderson Group) and the Kwok brothers (Sun Hung Kai), did well on the back of Hong Kong’s continuing asset inflation (some would say ‘bubble’).
  • China added 29 new names.
China+HK’s surge up the ranks of the world’s wealth elite continues. However, much of it is built on asset prices rather than the value of the output of industrial enterprises. How sustainable that wealth is, and how far it might fall in a world where hot money and ultra-low interest rates no longer exist, will be an interesting show to watch from my lowly, undersized footstool.

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