China's wealth plunge claims billionaires

Chinese economy decelerating in orderly fashion: Pro
Chinese economy decelerating in orderly fashion: Pro   

Earlier this year, China's raging stock market created vast numbers of new millionaires and billionaires—at least on paper. Now many of the new Chinese paper-rich are folding.

Chinese stock markets have plunged 30 percent over the past month, wiping out an estimated $3.35 trillion in wealth. Much of that lost "wealth" was spread among the millions of small farmers, workers and other first-time investors who margined up to play the great casino of the stock market. With so many families losing their savings, the losses of the rich seem trivial in comparison.

But just as in the U.S., the fortunes of China's billionaires are closely tied to the stock market. And the bull market run in China stocks in the first half of 2015 created vast fortunes for those at the top of the Chinese economy— and now the crash is claiming its share of 10-figure victims.

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According to Wealth-X, there were 22 new billionaires created in China during the market runup in the first half of the year. That would mark growth of more than 10 percent on China's billionaire population of 190, according to Wealth-X.

Zhou Qunfei, Lens Technology
AFP | Getty Images

Forbes estimates that the stock rally created more than 160 new billionaires. (The different estimates reflect the fact that counting billionaires is as much art as science, especially during market turmoil.)

The dust has yet to settle on the market falls of recent days. The Shanghai composite index is down 30 percent since mid-June and the Shenzhen index has fallen 40 percent, and trading in many stocks has been suspended so more damage may be on the way. Wealth-X estimates that at least five billionaires have lost that status in the last few weeks, leaving only 17 new billionaires for the year.

Who are some of the new billionaires and the billionaire losers?

Among the new billionaires is Ni Zugen, chairman of home appliance maker Kingclean Electronic, whose shares rose 44 percent on the day of its IPO in May. Another new billionaire was Qian Jinbo, chairman of Red Dragonfly Footwear, which makes shoes and whose share price more than doubled after it went public in early July, according to Forbes.

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Kingclean's shares have been suspended after falling by more than 64 percent, while Red Dragonfly's shares are down by more than 25 percent off their highs.

According to Bloomberg, China's richest woman, Zhou Qunfei, chairman of Lens Technology, which makes glass cellphone covers, saw her wealth shrink by $4.8 billion as shares in her company fell by more than a third.

Massive selloff in China
Massive selloff in China   

As for the number of millionaires, it will be at least another six months before we have some reliable counts. There are more than 1 million millionaires in China, according to various estimates. In the end, given the roller-coaster ride of the stock markets, those numbers may end up roughly where they started.

So the Chinese rich are learning the lesson that the U.S. learned in 2000—what the market giveth, the market may also taketh away.