Jack Ma replaces Mukesh Ambani as Asia's richest man

Mukesh Ambani is no longer Asia’s richest man, relinquishing the title to Jack Ma after oil prices collapsed along with global stocks.

The rout exacerbated by mounting fears that the spread of the novel coronavirus will thrust the world into a recession, erased $5.8 billion from Ambani’s net worth on Monday and dropped him to No. 2 on the list of Asia’s richest people, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Ma, the Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. founder who relinquished the No. 1 ranking in mid-2018, is back on top with a $44.5 billion fortune, about $2.6 billion more than Ambani.

Oil plunged the most in 29 years as Saudi Arabia and Russia vowed to pump more in a struggle for market share just as the coronavirus is spurring the first decline in demand in more than a decade. That raises questions about whether Ambani’s flagship Reliance Industries Ltd. will be able to cut net debt to zero by early 2021, as he has pledged. The plan hinges on a proposal to sell a stake in the group’s oil and petrochemicals division to Saudi Arabian Oil Co., the world’s biggest producer.

While the coronavirus has curtailed some of Alibaba’s businesses, the damage has been mitigated by increased demand for its cloud computing services and mobile apps.

Reliance Industries, by comparison, has no such silver lining. The Indian company’s shares plunged 12% on Monday, the most since 2009, extending this year’s decline to 26%. Alibaba’s American depositary receipts have slipped 6.8% so far in 2020.

Few of the world’s billionaires fared well in Monday’s collapse as the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average each plunged more than 7.5%, the most since the 2008 financial crisis, threatening to end the longest bull market in history. But no one did worse than those whose fortunes are underpinned by oil. Wildcatter Harold Hamm’s fortune was cut almost in half to $2.4 billion and fellow oil magnate Jeff Hildebrand lost $3 billion, bumping both from Bloomberg’s 500-member wealth ranking.

In its pivot toward new businesses such as telecommunications, technology and retail, Reliance Industries piled on billions of dollars of debt over the years.

Ambani, 62, could soon bounce back from the setback, said Harish H.V., managing partner at ECube Investment Advisors in Bengaluru.

“The game isn’t over,” he said. “Ambani has successfully built a robust business model which would keep him in the game. Moreover, his telecom business will start yielding results in coming years.”