Zong Qinghou tops China Rich List 2012

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Zong Qinghou, founder and chairman of the beverage giant Wahaha Group, reclaimed the top position on a list of China's wealthiest people this year, according to the latest China Rich List published by Hurun Report Inc Monday, making him the third person in 14 years to be a two-time crown winner.

Zong Qinghou, the 67-year-old founder and chairman of the drinks giant Wahaha Group [File photo]

Zong Qinghou, the 67-year-old founder and chairman of the drinks giant Wahaha Group [File photo]

Owning 80 percent of Wahaha, China's largest and most profitable drinks business, Zong, 67, and his family's fortune has risen to 80 billion yuan ($12.6 billion), up from $10.7 billion last year, helped by the company's net profit of $1 billion last year. According to the latest list of China's super-rich, five of the top 10 come from the real estate sector.

58-year-old Wang Jianlin, chairman and president of Dalian Wanda Group and the sixth richest on last year's list, saw his personal wealth soar 44 percent to $10.3 billion, giving him the second spot.

In early September, Wang shook up the entertainment industry with the $2.6 billion acquisition of the US' second-largest cinema chain, AMC Entertainment, but Wanda's core business remains its property arm, particularly its shopping malls, which last year had a turnover of $16 billion.

Meanwhile, Ma Huateng, 41, founder and chief executive officer of the Chinese Internet company Tencent Inc, is a new name to the top 10 list, coming in at seventh with a personal wealth of $6.5 billion.

Tencent is the largest company by market share in the list, with a market capital of $65 billion.

"China's rich have defied the global financial crisis with another record year of growth," said Rupert Hoogewerf, chairman and chief researcher of the Hurun Report, who began publishing it in 1999.

However, 469 of the top 1,000 saw their wealth decrease, and of those, 37 shrank by over 50 percent, at a time when the Shanghai Stock Exchange index fell by 19 percent compared with Aug 15 last year.

The annual list shows 251 people were ranked as billionaires in China this year, down 20 from last year, but still a huge increase compared to as little as six years ago, when there were only 15.

The average wealth of the top 1,000 is down by 9 percent to $860 million, but still almost double that of 2008 when it was $439 million.

"There has been a lot of bloodletting. In this sense, the rich list is a little bit like the instant photograph of the state of the private sector," added Hoogewerf.

"There has been a lot of pressure on property prices. And we have major export problems as well.

"But if you stand back and look at the private sector, it is still up almost 40 percent compared to two years ago, and 10 times, compared to 10 years ago."

Solar, textiles and retail have been the hardest-hit sectors this year.

Shi Zhengrong, founder and chairman of the solar company Suntech Power Holdings Co Ltd, for example, saw his personal wealth drop from last year's $1.1 billion to $470 million as its company's share price collapsed by 90 percent.

"Solar is having a hard time mainly due to export problems.

"For textile companies, part of the problem comes from management issues. They have very high levels of stock, which they haven't been able to sell. Two and three years ago, some of these textile companies were overvalued and those have fallen a lot since," said Hoogewerf.

EU-China trade relations have been buffeted recently by the European Commission's decision to start an investigation into Chinese solar panel manufacturers, which could damage Chinese companies further.

Meanwhile, statistics from the General Administration of Customs showed the country exported garment and textile products worth $24.6 billion in August, down 3.35 percent from the previous year.

Property, meanwhile, has lost its spot to manufacturing as the top source of wealth for the first time since the first Hurun Report in 1999, when half of the list had property as their main source of wealth.

Manufacturing now accounts for 20.5 percent of the individuals on the list.

"It is absolutely a signal of the economic downturn. Manufacturing has not gone up so much. But property has come down, which means that the Chinese economy has become more diversified, which is probably good," said Hoogewerf.

"But the general trend of property going down has been going on for about 14 years, and it's partly down to consolidation in the sector.

"We are getting fewer people eating more and more of the pie and, for smaller operators, it is becoming more difficult to grow fast. The companies on the list are the more mature ones, and so I view it as a sort of filtering out of the less mature companies," he said.

Although personal wealth has shrunk to a large extent, the Chinese super rich are still bravely exploring international markets.

Liang Wengen, who topped last year's list, saw his ranking drop to fifth due to a drop in the share price of his heavy machinery company Sany Heavy Industries after it bought a 90 percent share of Putzmeister, the German machinery manufacturer, for $400 million.

In July, Xinjiang Hualing Industry and Trade (Group) Co Ltd acquired a 90 percent of stake in the Georgian JSC Basisbank, becoming the first Chinese private enterprise to acquire a commercial bank overseas, and the company president, Mi Enhua, said it was planning on investing a further $450 million into the country.

"Chinese entrepreneurs are becoming more international, and international companies are rolling out the red carpet for them. I think that by 2015, you will be seeing a lot of Chinese companies making such international acquisitions," said Hoogewerf.

(China Daily contributed to the story)

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