Written by Joseph Chin
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s 40 richest people saw their combined wealth reduced by 22% to US$36 billion (RM126 billion) from US$46 billion a year ago, according to the 2009 Forbes Asia Malaysia Rich List (For the full report in PDF format, click here).
It said on May 28 the 22% loss in wealth is largely in line with the 21% drop in the Kuala Lumpur Composite Index and is not too bad considering the fact the ringgit has lost 10% against the US dollar, the currency in which the net worths are measured.
Kuok Group’s patriarch, Robert Kuok, is No 1 again with a net worth of US$9 billion, down from US$10 billion a year ago. He has held the top spot every year since Forbes Asia began ranking the 40 richest Malaysians in 2006.
Ananda Krishnan held to his second place with a net worth of US$7 billion, just down from US$7.2 billion last year. He has also maintained the same ranking every year since 2006.
Together, Kuok and Krishnan are worth US$16 billion and account for 44% of the top 40’s wealth. They are also the two richest people in Southeast Asia.
Third richest is Tan Sri Lee Shin Cheng, head of IOI Group, one of the world’s leading operators of palm oil plantations. He is worth US$3.2 billion, down from US$5.5 billion last year, but keeps his position in the top three.
Malaysia has nine billionaires who are collectively worth US$30 billion, or 84% of the total wealth amassed by the country’s top 40. This is the biggest wealth disparity among Forbes Asia rich lists.
Tan Sri Vincent Tan (No 10, US$750 million) of Berjaya Corporation Bhd is the only Malaysian to have dropped out of the billionaire ranks in the past 12 months, as share prices in his companies declined.
Three newcomers made their debut, thanks to the discovery of better or new information. They include IOI board member Chan Fong Ann (No 18, US$209 million), gaming tycoon Tan Sri Chen Lip Keong (No 21, US$195 million) and software executive Goh Peng Ooi (No 34, US$112 million).
The net worth among the 40 richest has picked up since March when Forbes published its world’s billionaires list. Kuok’s holdings are up US$2 billion since that period, in line with a surge in the nation’s stock market index.
Five other billionaires posted a combined US$800 million in gains since then.
Four people have returned to the ranks after an absence of a year or more. Among them are Syed Mohd Yusof Tun Syed Nasir (No 37, US$100 million) and Tan Sri Tan Teong Hean (No39, US$95 million), who cashed out of Southern Bank several years ago and are now making new investments.
The minimum net worth to make the list is US$90 million, down from US$100 million last year. This is held by Kua Sian Kooi, executive chairman of Kurnia Asia, who made it to the last spot following a big rally in his insurance firm’s stock, up 50% since the start of April.
Malaysian citizen Ong Beng Seng, who has lived in Singapore for decades, is wealthy enough to qualify but stands to be listed under that nation’s 40 richest in September, largely due to the fact that he and his wife, Christina, who is a citizen of Singapore, share a number of holdings.
The latest issue of Forbes Asia also features Tan Sri Francis Yeoh, head of conglomerate YTL and son of founder, Yeoh Tiong Lay (No 7, US$1.8 billion).
Initially losing out on bids for power-generating firms last year, the younger Yeoh says acquisition of PowerSeraya, Singapore’s second-largest power generator, along with large cash reserves, has given YTL “a very strategic position to win more power assets globally”.
The top 10 richest in Malaysia are:
1) Robert Kuok; US$9 billion
2) Ananda Krishnan; US$7 billion
3) Lee Shin Cheng; US$3.2 billion
4) Lee Kim Hua; US$2.5 billion
5) Teh Hong Piow; US$2.4 billion
6) Quek Leng Chan; US$2.3 billion
7) Yeoh Tiong Lay; US$1.8 billion
8) Syed Mokhtar AlBukhary; US$1.1 billion
9) Tiong Hiew King; US$1 billion
10) Vincent Tan; US$750 million