Gina Rinehart, the 58-year-old mining heiress and media investor, is the fourth-richest person in the Asia-Pacific region, with a net worth of $US20.4 billion ($19 billion), according to a new survey.
South Korean steelmaker Posco agreed in January to pay about $US1.5 billion to raise its stake in Ms Rinehart's Roy Hill iron ore mine project in Western Australia to 15 per cent, from 3.8 per cent, helping to sell her wealth.
Ms Rinehart, through her Hancock Prospecting, sold a 79 per cent stake in two coal projects in Queensland to India's GVK Group for $US1.26 billion last year.
Those sales and her existing assets made Ms Rinehart Asia's richest woman, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
(Ms Rinehart is also the biggest single shareholder of Fairfax Media, publisher of this website.)
Across the region, though, Ms Rinehart trails three others.
The role of the super-rich in Australia is a focus of attention after Treasurer Wayne Swan blasted billionaires including Ms Rinehart in an essay as part of "the rising power of vested interests" in Australia. Mr Swan today repeated the comments, singling out another mining magnate, Clive Palmer, worth more than $US5 billion.
Mr Swan said it had made his "stomach churn" to read Mr Palmer's comments that his only responsibility was to his shareholders and workers and that he had "no public responsibility whatsoever".
"What I say to people like Mr Palmer is they don't get rich on their own," he said.
Mukesh Ambani is Asia's richest person with a net worth of $US26.8 billion, even after his shares in India's top company by market value slid 18 per cent over the past 12 months, according to the Bloomberg survey.
Hong Kong's Li Ka-shing, nicknamed “Superman” by the local media for his investing prowess, ranks second in Asia, with a $US25.8 billion fortune.
Lakshmi Mittal, the Indian-born chairman of ArcelorMittal, the world's biggest steelmaker, is the third wealthiest Asian with a net worth of $US23.6 billion.
More Asians are set to dominate the ranking in the coming years after the number of billionaires in the region surpassed Europe's in 2010 and North America's in 2011, according to Credit Suisse Group AG.
“Asia is witnessing a tremendous economic boom now and the entrepreneurs who are steering economic prosperity are cleverly optimizing these opportunities,” said Noor Quek, previously the head of business development in Southeast Asia at Citigroup Inc.'s private-banking unit, who now runs Singapore-based family office adviser NQ International Pte. “Growth in the number and wealth of Asian billionaires will be exponential and the process has started.”
The number of billionaires in Asia rose to 351 last year, from 245 in 2010, according to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth report. Europe had 251 billionaires while North America accounted for 332 last year, the Zurich-based bank said.
Mr Ambani, who owns 44.7 per cent of Reliance Industries, operator of the world's biggest oil refining complex and owner of India's biggest natural gas field, ranks 11th among the world's richest. The 54-year-old industrialist's stake in the Mumbai-based energy explorer and refiner is worth $US24 billion.
Last year's 35 per cent drop in Reliance's share price prompted Ambani to offer to buy back the stock for the first time in seven years.
Reliance's cash more than tripled in the past two years to $US15 billion after BP, Europe's second-largest oil company, bought stakes in 21 fields in India for $US7.2 billion last year.
Two years ago, India's richest man completed his 27-story house in Mumbai, where half of the city's population lives in slums. The skyscraper, called Antilia, is worth at least $US500 million, according to Anuj Puri, chairman and country head of Jones Lang LaSalle.
No. 1 in Hong Kong
Mr Li, Greater China's wealthiest, ranks 12th worldwide, according to the index. His investments in Cheung Kong Holdings, the world's third-largest property developer by market value, Hutchison Whampoa, the billionaire's biggest company, and Husky Energy, a Canadian oil company, are worth about $US24 billion.
The 83-year-old founded Cheung Kong in the 1950s to manufacture plastics. Mr Li increased his investments in Hong Kong real estate in 1967 after riots from China's Cultural Revolution depressed prices. He correctly forecast in 2007 that China's stock-market bubble would burst and predicted in 2009 the rally in Hong Kong home prices.
Mr Mittal, named after the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity, is the 16th richest man in the world, according to the index.
A 47.5 per cent slump in the share price of ArcelorMittal in 2011 has eroded Mr Mittal's fortune as cooling economies in China and Europe sapped demand for steel. His 41 per cent stake in the Luxembourg-based company is worth about $US14 billion, compared with about $US17 billion a year ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Mr Mittal, 61, has lived in London since 1995 where he owns several properties, including a 12-bedroom mansion in Kensington Palace Gardens, which he bought in 2004 for 57.1 million pounds ($US10 million). Luxury-home prices in the UK's most expensive neighborhood have gained about 110 per cent since 2004, said Grainne Gilmore, head of UK residential research at Knight Frank.
Lee Shau Kee, the 84-year-old founder of Henderson Land Development in Hong Kong, is the fifth-richest Asian with an estimated net worth of $US19.8 billion.
Asia's family-controlled businesses, many of which are at a “much earlier stage of their life cycle,” will produce more billionaires as they raise money in capital markets to expand, said Francesco de Ferrari, the Singapore-based Head of Private Banking Asia Pacific at Credit Suisse. The market value of Asian family businesses expanded sixfold from 2000 to 2010, he said.
“Over the next five years, wealth of emerging economies is expected to leapfrog the developed world due to their more promising growth prospects,” he said.
Bloomberg with AAP