For the first time in history, Asia became home to the highest number of billionaires in the world. China is leading the pack, outnumbering the United States, UBS wealth management and PwC private banking reported. Two billionaires are born in China every week, with virtually all new entrants being self-made instead of from multi-generational family inheritance.
But what makes Chinese billionaires stand out the most, is the startling trajectory the newly affluent have followed. While billionaires worldwide are aging, China’s incoming class of freshers are breaking into the bracket at an average age of 55-years young, six years earlier than their U.S. peers, and seven years earlier than the Europeans.
One of the ways the Chinese are amassing their wealth is through the stock market. In contrast to the West where the average time for startups to go public is more than 10 years, Asian entrepreneurs prefer to list their companies much earlier through initial public offerings.
With many other ways to raise funding, U.S. startups especially in tech are avoiding Wall Street like the plague. Uber, Airbnb, Pinterest and Dropbox are prominent unicorns with valuations well over $10 billion that are growing slow and steady on the sidelines. Conversely, Chinese founders bravely take their companies forward unfazed by the potential roller coaster share performance that often comes with lofty startup valuations.
Whether the company ends up on the Shanghai bourse, the Nasdaq-style ChiNext, or decides to head overseas to the New York Stock Exchange, a public listing gives status to Chinese companies. The UBS PwC study shows a stock ticker improves the perception of the business and the brand with customers, suppliers, and even the company’s own employees.
In 2016, 63% of Asia’s 568 billionaire-linked companies were publicly-listed, compared to just 37% of the 421 U.S. companies and 40% of the 256 in Europe. An estimated 600 Chinese companies are queuing up for a mainland IPO approval as of this writing.
Real estate magnates galore
Technology tycoons aside, Chinese real estate prices and infrastructure spending also helped propel the wealth of the nouveau riche. The collective net worth of the country’s top seven developers added $44 billion to their fortunes since the beginning of the year. Despite government efforts to cool the scorching property market with various lending curbs and buying restrictions, prices in leading tier-one cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen bubbled over 60% in the first quarter.
Xu Jiayin in particular, the founder of China Evergrande who was born to a rural family in the townships of Henan province saw his assets skyrocket 272% in 2017. Xu is now just jostling in the ranks against Asia’s richest Jack Ma, executive chairman of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, and Pony Ma, chief of internet conglomerate Tencent.
China’s real estate investment growth has also picked up pace on the back of continued demand in recent months, showing no signs of abating. Though President Xi Jinping made his views loud and clear at the 19th Party Congress that, “housing is for living in, not for speculation.” Nonetheless, rags to real-estate riches stories like Xu’s are now a dime a dozen across the mainland.
Spending on cultural pursuits
As wealth continues to be created, the study finds that Asian billionaires are trying to carve out new identities through cultural legacies. They are becoming more engaged in the arts and increasingly invested in sports. American billionaires still take a far lead as the top art collectors in the world, but the Chinese have become more active, with the number of private museums in Asia growing over the last decade. It’s become both a passion project for the prestige and perhaps further galvanized by favorable tax treatments.
In the sporting world, Asian billionaires have been catching up, making over half the acquisitions in global sporting deals in the last two years. An avid soccer fan himself, President Xi has encouraged the buying of teams and the building of stadiums. Xi made it a political priority for the country to become a “world football powerhouse” by 2050. After that statement in late 2014, billions were plowed into sports-related deals.
Most recently a “sports town” in Sichuan province near Chengdu was announced by China’s Lander Development. (The company has also been in talks to take a stake in English soccer club Southampton.) Last year, a Chinese business man by the name of Xia Jiantong, of the little-known conglomerate Recon Group, outright bought 100% of English Premier League club Aston Villa. Property mogul Wang Jianlin took a 20% stake in Spanish club Atletico Madrid, while his Wanda Group swooped up the Ironman triathlon platform in 2015. The list goes on.
One thing to note about Chinese billionaires is that while they may be ahead in speed and numbers, they fall behind on volume. The average wealth that a billionaire holds stands at $2.5 billion, which is the lowest among its Asian peers.
Many young fortunes are just above the billionaire-dollar mark, making them susceptible to market fluctuations and vulnerable to political and economic changes.