The number of billionaires in mainland China slipped slightly last year as wealth creation in the world’s second largest economy was subdued by Beijing’s crackdown on the technology and property sectors, according to the latest study by New York-headquartered Wealth-X.
Hong Kong, which hosts the sixth-largest billionaire population in the world, ahead of countries such as Switzerland, Saudi Arabia and Singapore, experienced relatively slow wealth creation too, as it lost some of its shine as an international business hub, the wealth data provider said.
From 410 in 2020, there were just 400 billionaires in 2021 in mainland China, a drop of 2.4%. This was still enough to put it in second place, ahead of Germany but a long way behind the US which boasts 975 billionaires with a nest egg that grew by a fifth to US$4.45 trillion (RM19.61 trillion).
Though the combined wealth of the Chinese billionaires rose by 11.3% to US$1.45 trillion (RM6.39 trillion), this was one of the lowest gains among the top 15 countries in the study.
“In Asia’s largest billionaire markets, robust gains in India contrasted with more subdued development in China and Hong Kong. This partly reflected differing approaches to virus suppression, but also regulatory factors,” the latest report said. India’s billionaire population rose by 19.2% to 124, while their cumulative wealth surged 21.4% to US$384bil (RM1.69 trillion).
Beijing’s initiatives to reform its real estate sector, as well as the curbing of large technology firms “weighed on corporate earnings and Chinese equities,” it added.
Tech giants such as Alibaba, which owns the Post, TikTok owner ByteDance, WeChat operator Tencent and ride hailing company Didi Chuxing had their share sales or deals rolled back in the last two years as Beijing issued various rules that either effectively barred them from seeking fresh capital overseas or made it harder to acquire data and personal information that could be monetised.
The crackdown led the likes of Zhang Yiming, ByteDance’s founder, to leave the company’s board after handing over the daily running of the world’s most valuable start-up to his co-founder.
Meanwhile, China Evergrande, Sunac China, Guangzhou R&F Properties and Greenland Holdings were just some of the Chinese developers forced to delay their debt payments as Beijing’s introduction of its “three red lines” policy in 2020 made it difficult for them to access new loans.
Evergrande chairman Hui Ka-yan was forced to sell pledged shares, estimated to be worth HK$498mil (US$63.5mil or RM279.74mil), in December to pay a loan. The sale diminished Hui’s stake in the embattled developer from about 62% to 60%.
Hong Kong was home to 114 billionaires last year, up 2.7% from 2020. Their total wealth rose 1.9% to US$287bil (RM1.26 trillion). Among cities, this placed Hong Kong second globally, behind New York’s 138.
Hong Kong had the third-highest density of billionaires, with one for every 59,516 inhabitants. Kuwait led this index with one billionaire for every 33,090 residents, while San Francisco had one for every 56,209 heads of population.
Hong Kong, however, was considered an outlier, along with Brazil, because the combined net worth of the billionaires was considerably lower than other places, the report said.
“Contributory factors were a sharp fall in Brazilian equities and a less favourable political and business climate in Hong Kong, as well as virus-related developments,” Wealth-X said.
Following anti-government protests in 2019, Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law in Hong Kong, a move that led to a host of high-profile businesses such as TikTok pulling out of the city.
Meanwhile, tough Covid-19 curbs such as flight suspensions and quarantine requirements have become a source of discontent among local and foreign business groups in the city. They have warned that talent would relocate to other places if people could not freely travel in and out of the city when needed.
“It’s hard to (predict) how the number of billionaires will change year to year, but because density is impacted by largely stable inputs such as general population numbers and demarcation of physical city limits, it’s likely that Hong Kong will remain a city with a high billionaire density, unless its billionaire population changes significantly,” a spokeswoman from Wealth-X said.
Owing to the slower growth of the billionaire populations in China and Hong Kong, Europe slightly increased its lead over third-ranked Asia. Among all the regions, it experienced the strongest growth, up 6.8%. – South China Morning Post