China's wealthiest drop $71 billion in a day as stocks plunge

The slide in Chinese stocks accelerated Monday after US officials said Russia asked Beijing to help with the war in Ukraine. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - China's stock rout cost the nation's richest tycoons more than US$52 billion (S$71 billion) on Monday (March 14).

Zhong Shanshan, known as China's king of bottled water, led the plunge as his fortune fell by US$5 billion, while Tencent's Pony Ma dropped US$3.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Shares of Zhong's Nongfu Spring Co tumbled 10% in Hong Kong trading - the most in 18 months - though he still remains China's wealthiest person with a fortune of US$60.3 billion.

Tencent fell the most since 2011 after a report that it's facing a record fine for violating anti-money laundering rules. Pony Ma, once the country's wealthiest person, is now third with a net worth of US$35.2 billion.

The slide in Chinese stocks accelerated Monday after US officials said Russia asked Beijing to help with the war in Ukraine, raising concerns over a backlash against Chinese companies, potentially even sanctions.

The Hang Seng China Enterprises Index tracking shares traded in Hong Kong sank the most since November 2008, while the Hang Sang Tech Index tumbled 11% for the worst decline since its inception.

The drop cost the 78 Chinese billionaires among the world's 500 richest people a cumulative US$52.1 billion. The Wall Street Journal reported the People's Bank of China found its WeChat Pay had allowed the transfer of funds for illicit purposes, along with other issues.

While China's industry crackdown has already erased billions from the value of the nation's tech giants, Tencent had so far mostly managed to avoid regulatory action.

Zhang Yiming of ByteDance - which is private and therefore more shielded from the recent market volatility - is the country's second-richest person, with a fortune of US$44.5 billion.

Jack Ma, who was China's wealthiest before Pony Ma surpassed him, now ranks No. 4 with a net worth of US$34.3 billion. His fortune surpassed US$60 billion in late 2020, before the government started its anti-monopolistic campaign, halting the listing of his Ant Group payments company just two days before it was scheduled to go public.

On Friday, Didi Global shares slumped a record 44% as the ride-hailing giant suspended preparations for a Hong Kong listing. Its founder, Cheng Wei, lost his billionaire status.

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