What Asia's billionaires splurged on in 2015: From mansions to Monets

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Asia is minting billionaires faster than anywhere else in the world, and this elite group is giving Russian oligarchs and Middle Eastern aristocrats a run for their money in the trophy-assets stakes.

Here are five of the region's billionaires and some of the purchases they crossed off their bling wish lists this year.

1. Liu Yiqian

This former taxi driver started building his fortune by investing in the Shanghai stock market, then pouring money into real estate, pharmaceuticals and finance.

Mr Liu Yiqian, a former taxi driver turned billionaire and art collector, who bought Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu Couche painting of a nude woman at a Christie’s auction in New York. PHOTO: APPLE DAILY 

He and his wife Wang Wei have filled two private museums with art and antiques. Though he is worth billions, he flies for free on frequent flyer miles earned using his American Express Centurion Card to buy art.

An avowed "tuhao",  the Chinese term for nouveau riche, Mr Liu enjoys thumbing his nose at the art establishment, while outbidding all comers at auction.

Last year, he paid US$36 million (S$50.6 million) for a 500-year-old ceramic bowl that once belonged to a Chinese emperor, and then caused a furor by drinking tea from it.

In November he took things to another level, picking up Amedeo Modigliani's 1917 Nu Couche (Reclining Nude) for US$170.4 million (S$239.4 million) at a Christie's sale in New York, the second-highest amount ever paid for a painting at auction. 

2. Cyrus Poonawalla

The former maharaja's mansion in Mumbai that billionaire Cyrus Poonawalla bought from the US government. PHOTO: IANS

The family led by Indian billionaire patriarch Cyrus Poonawalla, chairman of Serum Institute of India, the world's biggest vaccine maker, paid US$120 million for this Mumbai mansion as a weekend home.

The sprawling compound's 50,000 sq ft may not be enough space, says his son Adar, who makes the four-hour trip from his home in Pune to Mumbai, where he races horses. There are plans to improve its facade, gut former security rooms, and perhaps build another floor if Mumbai's regulations protecting landmark structures allow it.

Built by a maharajah in 1938 and sold in 1957 to the US government, which used it as a consulate for over 50 years, the property sits on a 0.8ha plot overlooking the Arabian Sea. The sale price was a record for a residential property in Mumbai, according to local media reports.

3. Wang Jianlin

Billionaire Wang Jianlin attending the World Economic Forum meeting in Dalian, China, in 2013. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Mr Wang Jianlin, Asia's richest man, has had a busy year buying trophy assets. The 61-year-old founder and chairman of Dalian Wanda Group has built a fortune in property, owns cinema chains worldwide and is now expanding his sports empire.

In January, he agreed to pay 45 million euros (S$69.2 million) for a 20 per cent stake in Spanish soccer team Atletico Madrid.

Mr Wang, an avid buyer of 20th century art, added to his collection with the US$20.4 million purchase at Sotheby's in New York of a Claude Monet oil painting, depicting a rose-covered arch overlooking a sun-dappled lily pond at the artist's farm in France.

4. Joseph Lau

Property tycoon Joseph Lau (centre) with girlfriend Chan Hoi Wan and their daughter Josephine in Hong Kong in 2014. PHOTO: APPLE DAILY

Mr Joseph Lau, who controls Hong Kong property developer Chinese Estates Holdings, is not one to shy away from public displays of wealth. In 2007 he paid US$39.2 million for a Paul Gauguin, and last year blew US$41 million on jewellery for his teenage daughter Zoe.

This year, the multibillionaire raised the conspicuous- consumption bar even higher. In May, he plunked down US$67.4 million for Pablo Picasso's Buste de Femme at Christie's New York. The next day, across town at a Sotheby's auction, he picked up Roy Lichtenstein's painting The Ring (Engagement) for US$41.7 million.

In November, the 64-year-old went on another two-day shopping spree, in Geneva. First he paid 28.7 million Swiss francs ($29.2 million) for a 16.08-carat pink diamond at auction. The next day he nearly doubled that, paying 48.6 million Swiss francs (S$40.7 million) for a 12.03-carat blue diamond, the most ever spent on a jewel at auction. Both purchases were made on behalf of his seven-year-old daughter Josephine.

The 16.08-carat pink diamond on display at Christie's in Geneva on Oct 30. PHOTO: AFP

5. Jack Ma

A photo illustration of the South China Morning Post website with an image of Alibaba founder Jack Ma. PHOTO: REUTERS

The Chinese founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba was quoted in the Chinese media as telling a bunch of MBA students in Beijing that "making money is easy, spending it is hard". Though he was speaking about philanthropy, Mr Ma, who is worth about US$30 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire's Index, is starting to enjoy some of his wealth.

An ardent promoter of conservation, the 51-year-old Ma sits on the board of The Nature Conservancy. Fittingly, he paid US$23 million to buy himself his own private Walden - a 11,370ha estate in upstate New York that boasts a maple-syrup operation, a 1940s log camp and streams teeming with trout.

Mr Ma made far bigger headlines in December when Alibaba disclosed it was paying US$266 million to acquire the South China Morning Post newspaper in Hong Kong, following in the footsteps of another e-commerce giant, Mr Jeff Bezos, who bought the Washington Post in 2013.