Richest Malaysians saw large dissipation of wealth in 2018

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on March 15, 2019.
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KUALA LUMPUR: Last year was not the best of years for Malaysia’s wealthiest tycoons. Data compiled by Forbes showed that of the 50 richest persons in the country, 30 saw their wealth shrink. Only 11 recorded gains.

Sugar baron Robert Kuok, who for the past 23 years has held pole position as Malaysia’s richest person, saw the greatest dissipation of wealth in absolute terms. His US$2 billion (RM8.18 billion) loss in net worth was more than double the next biggest decline of US$900 million suffered by

T Ananda Krishnan.

Indeed, Public Bank Bhd icon Tan Sri Teh Hong Piow overtook Ananda, whose net worth was hit by the sharp share price fall in his listed companies, pay-TV operator Astro Malaysia Holdings Bhd and telcommunications company Maxis Bhd, in the second half of 2018.

However, Kuok’s total net worth of US$12.8 billion still outstrips the second richest Malaysian, Tan Sri Quek Leng Chan of the Hong Leong Malaysia Group, whose fortune grew by an impressive US$2.2 billion to US$9.4 billion from US$7.2 billion a year ago.

Some US$600 million was also wiped off from the net worth of YTL Group’s Tan Sri Francis Yeoh and his siblings (see table).

But in percentage terms, the biggest loser among Malaysia’s top 50 richest was Wong Thean Soon whose net worth plunged 63% to US$280 million following Barisan Nasional’s shock defeat in the 14th general election last year, dragging his company My EG Services Bhd (MyEG) to a four-year low.

Wong — the second largest shareholder and managing director of the e-government services provider — was left US$475 million poorer, falling 29 places to 48th position, according to Forbes.

Chairperson Datuk Norraesah Mohamad — MyEG’s largest shareholder and the only woman on the list last year — dropped off this year’s top 50.

Forbes also highlighted the losses incurred by Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Albukhary, although he retained his position as the 12th richest person in Malaysia. The tycoon, who controls stakes in MMC Corp Bhd, DRB-Hicom Bhd and Pos Malaysia Bhd, among others, saw a US$200 million erosion to his net worth last year as mega-infrastructure projects were put on hold pending ongoing reviews.

For casino king Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, not only was his flagship Genting Bhd caught in a legal spat with former US partners 20th Century Fox and Disney over a planned theme park in Genting Highlands, but its listed unit Genting Malaysia Bhd succumbed to its biggest quarterly loss of RM1.5 billion in the third financial quarter due to an impairment on Genting’s investment in promissory notes issued by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe for the development of an integrated gaming resort in Massachusetts, US.

In an article yesterday, Forbes attributed the wealth decline of Malaysia’s richest to a slowing economic growth rate and an 8% decline in the FBM KLCI over the last eight months.

The significant depreciation of the ringgit against the US dollar was another factor.

However, even though six out of 10 of Malaysia’s richest tycoons experienced a drop in net worth, they remain the 10 wealthiest men in the country as at March 2019.

Kuok controls the Shangri-La and Kerry group via Hong Kong-listed entities, as well as Singapore’s Wilmar International Ltd and Malaysia’s PPB Group Bhd.

The compilation of data was based on stock prices and exchange rates as of Feb 28, and sourced from stock exchanges, government agencies such as the Companies Commission of Malaysia, analysts, private databases and the individuals, said Forbes.