Ambani is richest Asian again after China mogul takes a hit

Indian tycoon Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries, has a net worth of about $106.6 billion.
Indian tycoon Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries, has a net worth of about $106.6 billion.

NEW YORK • India's Mr Mukesh Ambani is back to being the wealthiest person in Asia.

Despite a brutal week for markets, his Reliance Industries was relatively unscathed as it said it would spin off its oil-to-chemicals business into an independent unit.

With a net worth of about US$80 billion (S$106.6 billion), Mr Ambani is again richer than Mr Zhong Shanshan, whose bottled-water company tanked a record 20 per cent last week.

The Chinese tycoon is worth US$76.6 billion, down more than US$22 billion from a peak just earlier this month, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Mr Ambani spent most of the past two years leading the ranking of Asia's richest people, taking over from Alibaba Group's Mr Jack Ma.

Then the listing of two companies put Mr Zhong on the map: He grabbed the title from Mr Ambani at the end of December and by early this year was the sixth-wealthiest person on earth, surpassing Mr Warren Buffett.

Mr Zhong's Nongfu Spring more than trebled from its initial public offering to a peak last month as investors flocked to consumer shares, while his vaccine maker, Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise, surged as much as 3,757 per cent.

But the rally faded as the Hong Kong and Chinese stock markets were among the world's biggest decliners last week.

Nongfu shares have erased their gains for the year, while Wantai's posted a record monthly plunge.

Mr Ambani has focused on pivoting his empire to technology and e-commerce, moving away from energy.

Last year, he sold stakes in Reliance's digital and retail units worth US$27 billion to investors including Google and Facebook, lifting his fortune by US$18 billion.

The spin-off announced this week of the oil-to-chemicals unit - which accounted for more than 60 per cent of the conglomerate's revenue in the last fiscal year - will help the tycoon bring in more investors and expedite a proposed stake sale to Saudi Arabian Oil.

Mr Zhong and Mr Ambani are not the only two swopping titles lately.

Tesla's Mr Elon Musk became the world's richest person at the start of last month, before Mr Jeff Bezos regained the No. 1 spot earlier this month as shares of the electronic-car maker fell.

Mr Musk lost US$15 billion last Monday alone after he tweeted that the prices of cryptocurrencies seemed high - just two weeks after Tesla said it invested US$1.5 billion in Bitcoin.

Since then, Mr Musk and Mr Bezos have swopped places twice more. The Amazon founder topped Mr Musk by a US$7 billion margin as at Friday.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2021, with the headline 'Ambani is richest Asian again after China mogul takes a hit'. Subscribe