Jack Ma has become the richest person in Asia.
The 50-year-old founder of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., China’s biggest e-commerce company, passed Li Ka-shing, the Hong Kong property and ports tycoon who has held the top spot in the region since April 5, 2012, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
“I am nothing but happy when young people from China do well,” Li, 86, said by his spokeswoman in Hong Kong. A spokesman at Alibaba declined to comment on Ma’s net worth.
Ma, a former English teacher who started the Hangzhou, China-based company in his apartment in 1999, has added $25 billion to his fortune this year, riding a 54 percent surge in the company’s shares since its September initial public offering. He has a $28.6 billion fortune, according to the Bloomberg ranking. Li has a net worth of $28.3 billion.
“The billionaires in China are growing their wealth faster because China’s economy is still developing, with plenty of room for growth,” said Francis Ying, an analyst at Yuanta Research. “Hong Kong is already a mature market.”
Alibaba’s $259 billion market capitalization makes it larger than Amazon.com Inc. and EBay Inc. combined, and more valuable than all but eight companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.
More than half of Ma’s wealth comes from his 6.3 percent stake of Alibaba, valued at $16.3 billion. He also controls almost half of the closely held finance unit and owner of Alipay, a service similar to PayPal.
Ma’s interest in the online-payment company is expected to dilute in the next three to five years with new investors or stock distribution to employees. Ma won’t realize any economic benefit from the dilution, Alibaba has said.
Alibaba raised a record $25 billion in its Sept. 18 IPO, selling shares for $68 each. The American depositary receipts rose 1.05 percent to $104.97 at the close in New York.
“If you look at the whole Chinese Internet space as a group, it’s definitely getting very significant,” said Tony Chu, a money manager for RS Investment, which oversees about $22.3 billion. Alibaba has become “a global stock which you cannot ignore,” he said.
The fortune of Hong Kong’s Li, who controls Cheung Kong Holdings Ltd., one of the world’s three biggest property developers, has fallen $1.9 billion this year, according to the Bloomberg ranking. While shares of the real estate company gained this year, some of his other investments, including Husky Energy Inc., have dropped.
The billionaire started with a plastic flower factory that he opened after World War II. He began investing in Hong Kong’s property market in 1967, after riots from China’s Cultural Revolution depressed prices and has expanded his investments to include real estate, ports and telecommunications.
Li is nicknamed “Superman” by the local media for his investing prowess. He forecast in 2007 that China’s stock-market bubble would burst and predicted in 2009 the rally in Hong Kong home prices that would follow.
Ma, who became China’s richest person in August, said being the wealthiest in the world’s second-largest economy “is a great pain” in a CNBC interview aired on Nov. 11.
“I never thought I’d be and I don’t want to be,” he said.