We are not sure whether we should feel smug or disappointed that the richest people in the world don’t appear to be any better at figuring out the global economic slowdown than the rest of us. Forbes’s annual list of billionaires around the world shows their fortunes are down on average about as much as the equities markets overall over the past year. That still adds up to a loss of $2 trillion of wealth for that group, which is a serious chunk of change however rich you are.
The tumultuous year culled the ranks of the wealthy, reducing the 1,125 billionaires a year ago to 743. Li Ka-shing remains East Asia’s richest man, ranked at #16 with a net worth of $16.2 billion, though that is down from $26.5 billion a year ago, then good enough to rank him 11th. (The two Asian’s above Li, Mukesh Ambani and Lakshmi Mittal fell from 5th to 7th and 4th to 8th respectively, while Anil Ambani and K.P. Singh, 6th and 8th last year, have fallen out of the top 20 altogether.)
The cooling of the rapid growth that took China from having no billionaires in 2003 to 42 last year has had the commensurate effect in opposite direction. Nineteen of those 42 are no longer billionaires, and China ranks among the the top five countries in terms of number of drop-offs from the Forbes list.
Yang Huiyan, the Country Gardens real estate heiress is no longer China’s richest person; that is now Liu Yongxing who founded animal feed producer East Hope Group, and is worth $3 billion. Yang ‘s fortune fell from $7.4 billion to $2.3 billion, but still enough to keep her on the list (and China’s richest woman). Not so electrical appliance retailer Wong Kwong Yu, founder of Gome Electrical, whose fortune, Forbes estimates. fell from $3.5 billion to 900 million, though it concedes that figure is “murky right now”. Given Wong’s legal troubles his financial fall from grace may be the least of his worries.
To be rich isn’t always glorious.