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Rich list loses nearly half its value

THE rich are the biggest losers in the world financial turmoil, and tycoons from China are no exception, according to the Forbes 2009 list of the world's wealthiest people.

Only 52 Chinese billionaires were on this year's list, down from 75 a year ago, the magazine reported yesterday.

But things were bad all over. The world's total number of billionaires declined nearly one-third to 793, the first year-on-year decrease since 2003.

Perhaps the most alarming measure of the global financial tsunami came in this figure: The net wealth represented on this year's accounting fell from US$4.4 trillion to US$2.4 trillion, the worst relative decline since Forbes began compiling the ranking.

"The global economy's being battered by a financial hurricane that has wrought devastating damage on the world's financial systems," said Steve Forbes, chief executive officer of Forbes Inc.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates reclaimed the crown of the world's richest person with a total net worth of US$40 billion as he lost less than Warren Buffett, last year's leader. Buffett lost US$25 billion after shares of his investment firm, Berkshire Hathaway, fell nearly 50 percent in 12 months while Gates dropped US$18 billion. Buffett ranked second with assets of US$37 billion.

Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, chairman of the conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa, remained China's richest person. But he fell in the global ranking from 11th to 16th, and his wealth dropped from US$26.5 billion to US$16.2 billion.

Much of the decline in overall wealth came from stock markets that hemorrhaged value. Stocks on Chinese mainland, for instance, lost nearly 60 percent, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index dropped almost 50 percent.

Another 18 Hong Kong billionaires, 28 from the mainland and five from Taiwan made the 2009 list. The richest people in China still came mainly from the property and infrastructure sectors.

Real estate developers, however, suffered falling prices in the sluggish property market due to the global economic slowdown.

Last year's wealthiest person on the Chinese mainland, Yang Huiyan, was hit hard by property losses, falling from 125th to 296th place, and her net worth dropped from US$7.4 billion to US$2.3 billion.

Yang's wealth surged in 2007 when she inherited shares in her father's company, which debuted on the Hong Kong stock market that year. But Country Garden Holdings Ltd, a major real estate developer in Guangzhou and the Pearl River Delta, started to plunge last year due to the slack property market.

Agricultural feed tycoon Liu Yongxing, 60, became the richest mainlander, ranking 205th with US$3 billion in personal assets. He was No. 652 in 2008.

Liu and his three brothers made their early fortunes in feed. Liu, the second son in the family and chairman of Hope Group, has since expanded into natural resources with a focus on aluminum.

The United States remained the dominant country on the list. Americans accounted for 44 percent of the money and 45 percent of the list's members, up 7 and 3 percentage points from last year.

Russia performed the worst, dropping 55 billionaires, or two-thirds of the country's 2008 crop.


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