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Wall Street Journal / Biz - Money

Rich List: China Has Almost 100 More Billionaires Than the U.S.

Xu Jiayin, the 59-year-old chairman of heavily indebted China Evergrande Group, topped the annual list of China’s richest people, beating Tencent’s Pony Ma at No. 2 spot and Alibaba’s Jack Ma at No. 3.
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By

Wayne Ma and

Dominique Fong

BEIJING—One property tycoon is out as China’s richest person, only to be replaced by another real-estate kingpin—despite Beijing’s efforts to cool a roaring property market.

Xu Jiayin, the 59-year-old chairman of heavily indebted China Evergrande Group, topped the annual list of China’s richest people by Shanghai-based research firm Hurun Report released Thursday. It estimated his fortune at $43 billion, nearly four times what it was last year.

Yang Huiyan, 36, vice chair of property developer Country Garden Holdings, also catapulted up the ranks despite government-led efforts this past year to curb home prices and mortgage lending in China’s biggest cities.

Mainland China had 647 billionaires, almost 100 more than the 550 billionaires estimated to be in the U.S., said Rupert Hoogewerf, the founder and chief researcher of the Hurun list.

Both Mr. Xu and Ms. Yang rocketed higher as shares of their publicly traded companies soared on the strength of China’s escalating real-estate sales, he said.

“When I did the first rich list in 1999, which had 50 people, half were in real estate,” Mr. Hoogewerf said. “Pretty much every single year since then, the number of people on the list doing real-estate as a percentage has gone down—but wealth creation in the sector has continued to consolidate and go up.”

One exception: Wang Jianlin, China’s richest man for the previous two years. Mr. Wang sank to No. 5 on the list after he sold assets including hotels and tourism projects. Mr. Wang’s entertainment and property giant Dalian Wanda Group came under regulatory scrutiny this summer for spending too much on overseas deals.

The newly crowned richest man, Mr. Xu, also goes by the Cantonese name Hui Ka Yan. He owns 77% of the shares of Evergrande, which mostly builds homes but also has stakes in a soccer club, a health care unit and a life insurance business.

Shares of the company are more than five times higher since the start of the year amid a share buyback and solid earnings, with its most recent half-year sales report through June showing sales doubling from a year earlier to 188 billion yuan ($28.5 billion) and a ninefold jump in net profit. But it also reported net debt of $61 billion.

Other highlights from the list:

  • Missing billionaire Xiao Jianhua of Tomorrow Group, which has vast holdings in banks and brokerages, saw his wealth fall by a quarter to $4.5 billion. Mr. Xiao hasn’t been heard of since January after he crossed into mainland China from Hong Kong, according to Hong Kong police and his businesses.
  • Six executives from conglomerate HNA Group, including co-founder Chen Feng, joined the list for the first time. Mr. Hoogewerf said this was due to greater transparency in HNA’s ownership after the conglomerate reorganized earlier this year.
  • The average age on the list was 54, up from 29 when the first list was published. Women held 26% of the slots on the list, which is 2% more than last year.
  • Of the 2,000 people on the list, Beijing had the largest number of rich people, 300, followed by Shenzhen with 223 and Shanghai with 173.
  • At 26, Dai Wei of bike-sharing company Ofo Inc. was the youngest self-made entrepreneur on the list.

Ms. Yang of Country Garden saw her worth more than triple to $24 billion, making her China’s fourth richest person and China’s wealthiest woman. Ms. Yang’s father founded the real-estate company—China’s biggest developer by sales—and then transferred his stake to her.

China’s technology giants—Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Baidu Inc.—are also well represented in the top 10.

Tencent founder Pony Ma saw his wealth increase by 52% to $37 billion, for the No. 2 spot. Alibaba’s Jack Ma was No. 3, with his fortune shrinking a tad to $30 billion, but his company and its affiliate Ant Financial Services Group had 43 people on the list, more than any other organization.

Baidu founder Robin Li and his wife Ma Dongmin were at No. 7, with their combined net worth rising 28% to $19 billion.

Hurun said it compiles the list using a team of researchers “cross-checking information with entrepreneurs, local government, industry experts” and others.

“Valuing the wealth of China’s richest is as much art as it is a science.”  Hurun said in a news release. “We have missed some people, many of whom go to extraordinary lengths to hide their wealth.”

Write to Wayne Ma at wayne.ma@wsj.com and Dominique Fong at dominique.fong@wsj.com

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