Consumers lay path to wealth for many Asian billionaires

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 22, 2011 11:03 AM
Consumers lay path to wealth for many Asian billionaires

By Tony Munroe

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Voracious consumers in Asia laid the path for many of the region's newcomers to the world's billionaire club.

The new arrivals on the Forbes 2011 list of the world's richest people include Chinese makers of microwave ovens, sportswear, pharmaceuticals and sanitary napkins, as well as the founder of a private education company and two car distributors.

But the heyday of property as a source of wealth is far from over. The Indian developer of what will be the world's tallest residential building is among those in Asia joining the ranks of billionaires, the Forbes list shows.

Mainland China is home to 115 billionaires on the Forbes list, with India a distant second in Asia at 55.

China is in the process of shifting its economic reliance away from exports and more toward the domestic consumption of its one-billion plus population.

"More billionaires will be seen from those mid-end branded operators aiming at the middle class," said Alex Wong, a fund manager and director at Hong Kong-based Ample Finance Group.

"You are going to see more newcomers from the less capital-intensive retail segment, especially related to branding and those asset-light sourcing-related areas," he said.

China's rate of consumption has long been lower than other countries at a similar stage of development, drawing criticism from the United States and other countries that it keeps its currency artificially low to encourage exports.

But consumption is picking up quickly and many analysts think it has reached a turning point.

China accounted for 5.4 percent of total global consumption in 2010, a share that is on track to rise to 12 percent by 2020, Morgan Stanley economist Qing Wang says.

CARS, HOUSES, MICROWAVES, DRUGS

Growth in the world's second-largest economy has made it the world's largest auto market, helping launch two Chinese auto distributors -- Pang Qinghua and Li Guoqiang -- onto the Forbes billionaire list for the first time.

Other joiners benefiting from Chinese spending power include Yu Minhong, founder of New Oriental Education & Technology Group Inc.

His company, which offers English language instruction and courses to prepare for tests in education-obsessed China, went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 2006. The company has a market value of nearly $3.6 billion.

The co-founders of Hengan International, Hui Lin Chit and Sze Man Bok, China's largest maker of sanitary napkins, joined the billionaires list with net worth estimated at $1.7 billion each.

Several Chinese pharmaceutical tycoons are also new billionaires, including Che Fengsheng, who heads Sihuan Pharmaceutical Holdings Group Ltd. The company raised $741 million in a Hong Kong initial public offering in October.

Chinese microwave-oven king, Liang Qingde, who is chairman of Guangdong Galanz Group, joined the Forbes list with a fortune estimated at $1 billion. The group has a market share in China of 65 percent and a market share outside China of 46 percent.

In India, which has long been a more domestically driven economy than China's, the ranks of newcomers includes Brijmohan Lall Munjal, patriarch of the family that controls Hero Honda, the country's largest maker of two-wheelers, and Ashwin Dani, vice chairman of Asian Paints.

Mangal Prabhat Lodha, whose property firm is building a 117-storey residential tower in Mumbai, joined the Forbes list with a net worth of $1.1 billion.

That ranks him 50th among Indian billionaires. The project, called World One, is due to be completed in 2014.

His Lodha Developers, which has not yet managed to launch a planned $600 million initial public offering, is making a heavy bet on real estate in India's crowded financial capital.

Last year it paid roughly $897 million, twice the asking price, for a plot of land in Mumbai, marking the city's largest property transaction.

The Forbes list of world billionaires can be seen at www.forbes.com/billionaires

(Additional reporting by Donny Kwok in Hong Kong and Simon Rabinovitch in Beijing; Editing by Neil Fullick)