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Ambani Backed by India Power Is Asia’s No.1 Billionaire

Mukesh D. Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd. Photographer: Adeel Halim/Bloomberg
Mukesh D. Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd. Photographer: Adeel Halim/Bloomberg

Mukesh Ambani is Asia’s richest person with a net worth of $26.8 billion, even after his shares in India’s top company by market value slid 18 percent over the past 12 months, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Hong Kong’s Li Ka-shing, nicknamed “Superman” by the local media for his investing prowess, ranks second in Asia, with a $25.8 billion fortune. Lakshmi Mittal, the Indian-born chairman of ArcelorMittal, the world’s biggest steelmaker, is the third wealthiest Asian with a net worth of $23.6 billion.

Their fortunes account for about 11 percent of the combined net worth of the world’s 20 richest people. More Asians are set to dominate the ranking in the coming years after the number of billionaires in the region surpassed Europe’s in 2010 and North America’s in 2011, according to Credit Suisse Group AG.

“Asia is witnessing a tremendous economic boom now and the entrepreneurs who are steering economic prosperity are cleverly optimizing these opportunities,” said Noor Quek, previously the head of business development in Southeast Asia at Citigroup Inc.’s private-banking unit, who now runs Singapore-based family office adviser NQ International Pte. “Growth in the number and wealth of Asian billionaires will be exponential and the process has started.”

The number of billionaires in Asia rose to 351 last year, from 245 in 2010, according to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth report. Europe had 251 billionaires while North America accounted for 332 last year, the Zurich-based bank said.

Energy Giant

Ambani, who owns 44.7 percent of Reliance Industries Ltd., operator of the world’s biggest oil refining complex and owner of India’s biggest natural gas field, ranks 11th among the world’s richest. The 54-year-old industrialist’s stake in the Mumbai-based energy explorer and refiner is worth $24 billion.

Last year’s 35 percent drop in Reliance’s share price prompted Ambani to offer to buy back the stock for the first time in seven years.

Reliance’s cash more than tripled in the past two years to $15 billion after BP Plc, Europe’s second-largest oil company, bought stakes in 21 fields in India for $7.2 billion last year.

Two years ago, India’s richest man completed his 27-story house in Mumbai, where half of the city’s population lives in slums. The skyscraper, called Antilia, is worth at least $500 million, according to Anuj Puri, chairman and country head of Jones Lang LaSalle.

No. 1 in Hong Kong

Li, Greater China’s wealthiest, ranks 12th worldwide, according to the index. His investments in Cheung Kong Holdings Ltd., the world’s third-largest property developer by market value, Hutchison Whampoa Ltd., the billionaire’s biggest company, and Husky Energy Inc., a Canadian oil company, are worth about $24 billion.

The 83-year-old founded Cheung Kong in the 1950s to manufacture plastics. Li increased his investments in Hong Kong real estate in 1967 after riots from China’s Cultural Revolution depressed prices. He correctly forecast in 2007 that China’s stock-market bubble would burst and predicted in 2009 the rally in Hong Kong home prices.

Mittal, named after the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity, is the 16th richest man in the world, according to the index.

A 47.5 percent slump in the share price of ArcelorMittal in 2011 has eroded Mittal’s fortune as cooling economies in China and Europe sapped demand for steel. His 41 percent stake in the Luxembourg-based company is worth about $14 billion, compared with about $17 billion a year ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

London is Home

Mittal, 61, has lived in London since 1995 where he owns several properties, including a 12-bedroom mansion in Kensington Palace Gardens, which he bought in 2004 for 57.1 million pounds ($90.4 million). He has two other homes nearby. Luxury-home prices in the U.K.’s most expensive neighborhood have gained about 110 percent since 2004, said Grainne Gilmore, head of U.K. residential research at Knight Frank LLP.

Gina Rinehart, the 58-year-old Australian mining heiress and media investor, is the richest woman in the Asia-Pacific region, with a net worth of $20.4 billion.

South Korean steelmaker Posco agreed in January to pay 1.78 trillion won ($1.6 billion) to raise its stake in Rinehart’s Roy Hill iron ore mine project in Western Australia to 15 percent, from 3.8 percent. Rinehart, through her Hancock Prospecting Pty. Ltd., sold a 79 percent stake in two coal projects in the state of Queensland to India’s GVK Group for $1.26 billion last year.

Family Business

Lee Shau Kee, the 84-year-old founder of Henderson Land Development Co. in Hong Kong, is the fifth-richest Asian with an estimated net worth of $19.8 billion.

Asia’s family-controlled businesses, many of which are at a “much earlier stage of their life cycle,” will produce more billionaires as they raise money in capital markets to expand, said Francesco de Ferrari, the Singapore-based Head of Private Banking Asia Pacific at Credit Suisse. The market value of Asian family businesses expanded sixfold from 2000 to 2010, he said.

“Over the next five years, wealth of emerging economies is expected to leapfrog the developed world due to their more promising growth prospects,” he said.

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