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Thursday, November 8, 2007

China's Billionaires

Chairman Mao must be turning over in his grave. The handful of capitalist roaders are now firmly in control. Socialism with Chines characteristics means catching up and surpassing the US in numbers of billionaires. A role model is an entrepreneur who works from 8AM to 2AM to make money and has no time to enjoy what it can buy! This is the new way to serve the Maoist slogan: Serve the people!


Little-Known Entrepreneurs Putting China Near Top of Billionaires’
List
By DAVID BARBOZA
New York Times
November 7, 2007

SHANGHAI, Nov. 6 — The United States has more billionaires than any
other
country: 415 by the last count of Forbes magazine.

No. 2, and closing fast? China.

A year ago, there were 15 billionaires in China. Now, there are more
than
100, according to the widely watched Hurun Report. Forbes has
documented 66.

Unlike America’s rich, China’s are hardly famous, even here. Bill
Gates and
Warren E. Buffett are known around the world. But Yang Huiyan and Robin
Li?

Yet, who they are, and what they decide to do — or are allowed to do
— with
their money and newfound influence will have political and economic
consequences in China and probably far beyond, analysts say.

“They could start buying companies in the U.S.,” Chang Chun, an
economist at
the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai, said.
“They have
so much influence.”

Thanks to the capitalist stock mania sweeping the Communist mainland,
Chinese private and state-owned companies issuing stock for the first
time
are becoming the most valuable companies in the world — at least on
paper —
often overnight.

On Tuesday, Alibaba.com, one of China’s biggest Internet companies,
had a
blockbuster stock offering, raising nearly as much as Google and
soaring 193
percent on its first day of trading.

That came after the debut on Monday of the state-owned energy company
PetroChina on the Shanghai Stock Exchange. Its market valuation ran up
to
more than $1 trillion, topping that of any company in history.

Analysts are skeptical about the way China’s stocks are valued,
particularly
those like PetroChina with huge amounts of untradable government
shares. But
on paper it has dethroned Exxon Mobil as the most valuable company in
the
world.

Similarly, China Mobile is the world’s most valuable
telecommunications
company. The state-owned Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, which
was
nearly insolvent a decade ago, is worth more than Citigroup.

And when Country Garden, a southern China real estate company, went
public
in April, its initial public offering was bigger than Google’s.

But many analysts argue that there is nothing underlying the
skyrocketing
values, or that the obscure finances of the companies make it
impossible to
know their true value. And if China’s stock market is a bubble, the
new
billionaires will disappear as quickly as they rose.

“A lot of people are surprised at how fast this has happened,” said
Jing
Ulrich, an analyst at JPMorgan. “But this is the power of the capital
markets. A lot of people’s wealth is based on newly listed
companies.”

After a nearly decade-long bear market for Chinese stocks, investors
here
are in party mode. The Shanghai Stock Market is up nearly 400 percent
in two
years. The Hong Kong Stock Exchange is shattering records.

The emergence of the superwealthy is a dramatic turnaround in a country
that
once branded enemies of the state “capitalist roaders.”

But in the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping broke with Maoist dogma by saying,
“to get
rich is glorious,” setting off a wild scramble that has produced a
generation of hungry entrepreneurs.

Many analysts believe the Chinese are so new to this type of money that
they
themselves do not know what they will do with it, assuming it lasts.

As much as the bounty of billionaires is a source of pride, it is also
a
potential cause for concern in a nominally Communist country. Per
capita
income in China is less than $1,000 a year.

“One issue is social stability,” says Emmanuel Saez, a professor of
economics at the University of California, Berkeley. “In Latin
America you
had such a concentration that revolutionaries wanted to redistribute
it.”

Perhaps for that reason, many wealthy Chinese entrepreneurs fight to
stay
off the rich lists. Plus, the early lists of wealthy often led to
unwanted
scrutiny, including investigations and jail for some on tax evasion or
corruption charges.

But times have changed.

With the economy of China roaring and entrepreneurs sensing a golden
age of
stock riches, everyone seems to be mouthing the words “shang shi,”
Chinese
for initial public offering.

Among the most celebrated are the young Internet tycoons. Robin Li, the
38-year-old founder of Baidu, which is called China’s Google, is now
worth
about $2.4 billion, making him richer than Jerry Yang of Yahoo. Ma
Huateng,
36, of Tencent, another Internet giant, is worth $1.9 billion. And
Jason N.
Jiang, the 34-year-old founder of Focus Media, is worth $1.1 billion.

Mr. Jiang grew up in Shanghai, and studied literature before turning
his
focus to business while in college. He says he started out selling
advertising in Shanghai and then, in 1997, formed what is now Focus
Media
with the idea of placing video monitors broadcasting advertisements in
elevators, apartment complexes, supermarkets, and even on street
corners.

With the help of Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse, Focus Media went
public in
2005 on the Nasdaq — and its shares have jumped about 800 percent in
two
years.

But it may be ambition more than money, at least so far, that motivates
him.
“I want this company to be the greatest media group — the greatest
media
company in the world,” he said in an interview. “I want Focus Media
in every
part of the world.”

He says he works 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., and does not feel tired. He also
says he
has no time for anything else, including spending his enormous wealth.
He
has upgraded to a nicer home in recent years, he says, but has little
time
for sports or anything else. He is single and works through lunch at
his
desk, buying a $2.50 take-out meal nearly every day.

“I think this is typical,” he says of successful entrepreneurs in
China.
Experts call entrepreneurs like Mr. Jiang the country’s best hope for
innovation.

“These young 30-something-year-old entrepreneurs have become
billionaires,
and they’ve become role models for others,” says Chen Zhiwu, a
professor of
finance at Yale University. “They have totally energized Chinese
entrepreneurs.”

In fact, after Forbes and the Hurun Report, which tracks the wealthy,
published their rich lists this fall, the government in Hunan Province,
Mao’s
birthplace in central China, seemed to complain that the province was
not
accurately represented.

The Hunan provincial government posted its own rich list on its
provincial
Web site, as if to say: people from Hunan are great entrepreneurs, too.

While Forbes this year estimates that there are 66 billionaires in
China,
Rupert Hoogewerf, publisher of The Hurun Report, has already found more
than
100, and there could be many more, he says.

Mr. Hoogewerf also says that 6 of the 10 richest self-made women in the
world are from China, including Zhang Yin, the founder of Nine Dragons
Paper, which collects recycled paper from the United States and turns
it
into boxes in China.

The richest person in China, since last April, is also a woman: Yang
Huiyan
of Country Garden, the real estate company.

Ms. Yang, 26, who did not grant an interview, is No. 1 on both rich
lists,
and easily the richest woman in Asia. A graduate of Ohio State
University,
she is worth about $16 billion, making her richer than George Soros,
Rupert
Murdoch and Steven P. Jobs.

Her father, a real estate developer in southern China, gave her most of
the
family’s fortune in stock, just before Country Garden’s blockbuster
Hong
Kong initial public offering.

In keeping with their reputation for discretion, of about 15
billionaires
contacted recently, only one, Mr. Jiang, agreed to an interview. They
tend
to hide their billions, friends say, sometimes with offshore purchases.
Some
even boast that they still get a $2 haircut.

Their stories, though, are remarkable. Huang Guangyu, 38, grew up in a
poor
village in southern China, where he and his brother sold plastic
bottles and
newspapers. Now, he controls Gome, one of the country’s most popular
electronics stores.

Li Ning won three gymnastics gold medals at the 1984 Olympics in Los
Angeles. Later, he founded a sporting goods company, took it public and
signed Shaquille O’Neal to a sneaker contract. Now, Mr. Li is richer
than
Tiger Woods.

The rise of the Chinese billionaire is remarkable not just because of
the
speed with which it has happened — the country only opened up to
capitalism
25 years ago — but because it happened without the help of a single
global
brand, no Sony or Toyota. (Japan has only 24 billionaires.)

Indeed, China’s wealthiest, largely real estate tycoons (35) and
manufacturers, appear singularly focused on making it inside China, not
outside.

That is the next challenge of the billionaires. And some are already
embracing it.

Shi Zhengrong studied physics and solar energy in Australia before
returning
to China in 2001 to start up Suntech Power. Six years later, Mr.
Shi’s solar
energy company is valued at $9 billion, its stock price up over 300
percent
since the public stock offering in December 2005.

In an interview earlier this year at his Shanghai headquarters, Mr. Shi
insisted that solar power will play a role in China’s development.
And as he
finished the meeting, he smiled and said, “Some day, this company
will be as
big as Microsoft.”


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