HONG KONG • The Chinese billionaire using his personal fortune to help fund a US$50 billion (S$72 billion) Nicaraguan canal to rival the Panama Canal has crashed into the bitter reality of equity markets in the world's second-largest economy.
Telecommunications entrepreneur Wang Jing, 42, was one of the world's 200 richest people with US$10.2 billion at the peak of the Chinese markets in June, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His net worth has since fallen to US$1.1 billion.
His 84 per cent drop so far this year is the worst recorded by the index, which provides a daily ranking of the world's 400 richest people. Mr Ivan Glasenberg, chief executive officer of Baar, Switzerland-based Glencore, had the second-biggest percentage decline, falling 66 per cent to US$1.8 billion.
Mr Wang owns 35 per cent of publicly traded Beijing Xinwei Telecom Technology Group, which has tumbled with China's equity markets. The end of a lock-up on 51 per cent of its shares on Sept 10 triggered a further decline that has pushed Xinwei to a 57 per cent drop this year. He pledged Xinwei shares valued at US$2.4 billion in July that were removed from his net worth calculation.
Behind Mr Wang and Mr Glasenberg are Hong Kong casino operator Lui Che Woo and Mexican retailer Ricardo Salinas, who have both fallen almost 47 per cent. To date, the year's biggest dollar decliners are the world's third- and fourth-richest people. Mr Carlos Slim, No. 4, has lost US$14.2 billion, or 20 per cent of his net worth. Mr Warren Buffett is down US$12.5 billion, a 17 per cent fall. The 400 billionaires on the index have lost 4.2 per cent of their combined net worth this year.
HKND Group, Mr Wang's closely held development company, was awarded a 50-year concession for the 274km canal by the government of President Daniel Ortega in 2013.
The billionaire said in a televised press conference in Nicaragua last December that he was committing personal funds to the project, and he has poured about US$500 million of his own money into it so far, Mr Peng Guowei, an executive vice-president at HKND, told Chinese state media Xinhua on Sept 7.
"The turn of fortune in Mr Wang's financial resources will impact how and whether the canal can and will be built," said Mr Daniel Wagner, chief executive of Country Risk Solutions and a former country risk manager at General Electric.
"I would expect, given this year's financial gyrations in China, that the government is also asking itself whether the canal is a viable proposition."