BEIJING (Bloomberg): China’s latest anti-corruption crackdown is hammering the personal wealth of the nation’s healthcare tycoons.
The combined fortunes of the top 15 Chinese healthcare billionaires has fallen to US$84.1 billion from $101.4 billion at the end of last year, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
The drop comes as the country’s top regulators started a sweeping anti-graft campaign across the nation’s healthcare sector about two months ago. It has resulted in hundreds of hospital chiefs and pharmaceutical executives being probed, sparking a sector-wide share slump as investors chose to sell instead of guessing which companies will be hit by the clampdown.
The focus on healthcare comes after similar market-roiling campaigns to reform the real estate and education sectors, which banned most tutoring companies from making a profit.
"This is a much bigger sector than online tutoring and increasingly dependent on private sector investment,” Alicia Garcia Herrero, chief economist for Asia Pacific at Natixis, said about the consequences for China’s health-care sector. "This time around the crackdown could exert additional pressures dampening investment.”
In dollar terms, Chen Bang, the chairman of Aier Eye Hospital Group, has seen the biggest fall in his personal fortune. It has dropped $3.4 billion since the beginning of the year to $9.5 billion after shares of the ophthalmic medical group fell about 25% since January.
Shenzhen Mindray Bio-Medical Eletronics Co. co-founder Xu Hang and Zhong Huijuan, founder and chair of Hansoh Pharmaceutical Group, both lost about $2.3 billion. Zhong, a former chemistry teacher, founded Hansoh in 1995, which has since become one of China’s largest makers of psychotropic drugs.
Shanghai United Imaging Healthcare Co. founder Xue Min saw his fortune shrink by 44% this year. The company completed an initial public offering last year after revenue surged from scanners and X-ray systems during the pandemic.
The clampdown on the health sector was to be expected after the excess stemming from years of Covid Zero policies, Garcia Herrero said.
The sector had until recently been growing at a breakneck pace to accommodate the country’s ageing population and expanding middle class.
Yet, health-care workers, including the nation’s 4.4 million doctors and 5.2 million nurses, haven’t reaped the gains in terms of wages. That’s spawned practices that boost the pay of medical workers, such as companies giving kickbacks to doctors for prescribing their drugs or using their medical devices.
The recent clampdown spurred investor concerns that health-care companies will see lower budget from public hospitals for medicine supplies and medical equipment and it could hurt profitability.
Over the past three years, high-profile crackdowns in various sectors have slashed the valuations of many star companies including Ant Group and Didi Global Inc.
Although China has signalled a more welcoming environment for businesses in the past few months and planned to set up a new agency to promote private sector growth, investors remain skeptical.
Still, the anti-corruption campaign in healthcare may finish earlier than expected, Citigroup Inc. analysts including John Yung said in a note this month. In the medium to long term, industry leaders should be able to consolidate market share and deliver higher profitability due to permanently lowered selling expenses, they said.