China’s importance in the Forbes Billionaires List has soared in recent years as its economy has boomed. Last year, a record 115 mainland Chinese made the list, compared with hardly any a decade ago. Entrepreneurs involved in everything from Tibetan medicine to sports shoes to the Internet have joined an elite group populated by the likes of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Their growing financial heft has put the hitherto unknown Chinese successes at the center of attention worldwide for the likes of immigration agents, charities and universities scrambling to admit their children and attract their cash. Collectively, they ranked No. 2 in the world on the Forbes Billionaires List in 2011, second only after the United States.
Yet this year, the trend reversed. The number of mainland Chinese billionaires dropped by 20 to 95. Behind the decline: Some 35 billionaires from China that made the lift last year didn’t make it this year. The arrival of fresh faces – some 16 – wasn’t enough to offset the decline.
Fortunes shrank as profits and stock valuations were hurt by the country’s slower economic growth, brought on in part by a global slowdown and tight credit policies that to break real estate prices. Shanghai’s main stock index plunged by nearly 20% in the 12 months that we surveyed for this year’s list. Hong Kong, where many Chinese entrepreneurs also list, suffered a 9% drop in its main index.
Among the 2011 Chinese billionaires that didn’t make the list this year is Nike rival Ding Shizhong, whose family controls sports footwear maker Anta; and Lei Jufang, a supplier of Tibetan medicine whose main business Tibet Cheezheng Tibetan Medicine lost 28% of its value in the last year.
Other flame-outs: Zhang Changhong, chairman of financial information provider Shanghai Great Wisdom, whose lost 55% of its value, and Li Hongxin, the chairman of paper producer Sun Paper, a joint venture partner of New York-listed International Paper. Its shares lost nearly a third.