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Tencent Shares Gallop, Making Pony Ma China’s Richest Man

Tencent CEO Ma Huateng
Ma Huateng, chairman and chief executive officer of Tencent Holdings Ltd, whose English name is Pony, co-founded Tencent with a Shenzhen University classmate, Zhang Zhidong, in November 1998. Its first product was instant-messaging software similar to AOL’s ICQ chat service. Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

Ma Huateng, chairman of Tencent Holdings Ltd., became China’s richest man after shares in the Internet messaging company he co-founded leaped to a record.

The 42-year-old Ma, whose English name is Pony, has a net worth of $13 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The title for China’s wealthiest person changed hands twice in 2013. Beverage billionaire Zong Qinghou was eclipsed in August by Dalian Wanda Group property and entertainment mogul Wang Jianlin. Robin Li, founder of the search engine Baidu Inc. edged Wang in December.

Tencent climbed in Hong Kong trading after disclosing it bought an almost 10 percent stake in Chinese logistics center operator China South City Holdings Ltd. for $193 million. Tencent may use South City to challenge Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Baidu for China’s 618 million Internet users, half of whom buy goods and services online. Tencent said it will use South City to help businesses move their operations online.

“We view this as a savvy move,” Stephen Yang, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Sun Hung Kai Financial Ltd., wrote in a report today. “The investment will guarantee Tencent a stable logistics services partner and the option to develop more warehousing facilities.

Tencent shares have soared 92 percent in the past 12 months, benefiting from WeChat, an instant messaging and social networking app known as Weixin in China. More than 84 percent of China’s Internet users tap instant messaging, making it the most popular online application, surpassing search engines, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Industries.

Billion-Plus Users

Tencent’s QQ instant-messaging service had 818 million monthly active users at the end of June, and WeChat had 236 million, almost twice the population of Japan.

Baidu and Alibaba are also led by self-made billionaires. Baidu Chairman Robin Li became the nation’s wealthiest individual last year and has a fortune of $12.5 billion. Alibaba’s Jack Ma, who founded the world’s largest Internet marketplace and isn’t related to Pony Ma, is worth $3.6 billion.

Zhang Zhidong, the other co-founder of Tencent, is worth $7.1 billion and is China’s fifth-richest man, according to the Bloomberg wealth ranking. He has a 6 percent stake in the company compared to Pony Ma’s 10.3 percent. Shares of Tencent have soared to HKD $512.50 from its 2004 initial public offering price of HKD $3.70.

Acquisitions, Investments

Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu are making acquisitions and investing in companies to strengthen their e-commerce businesses. Online retailing in China more than doubled each year from 2003 to 2011 and is projected to more than triple to $395 billion in 2015 from 2011, according to a McKinsey & Co. report in March.

This month, Tencent invested in China cab booking app Didi Taxi and began allowing users to pay fares using its payment system Weixin Payment. In May, Alibaba invested $294 million for a 2 percent stake in Beijing-based mapping company AutoNavi Holdings Ltd.

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