RICH PICKINGS: Miner or minor?

It appears 2010 has been very kind to the mining billionaires with some big shifts amongst the nation's richest, but outside of that group it's been a mixed year for the wealthy.

As 2010 draws to a close, it’s time to take a final look at how Australia’s rich rankings are shaping up with a special end-of-year rich top 10.

Since the release of BRW’s Rich 200 in May, there has been a surprising level of reshuffling. Two clear groups have emerged – the miners, who have done very well, and everyone else, who have had decidedly mixed years.

Using the Rich 200 top 10 from May as a base, we’ve updated the rankings and fortunes of Australia’s 10 richest people, according to share price movements and asset price changes.

As always, these numbers are conservative estimates.

1. Andrew Forrest – $6.4 billion

Forrest has overtaken Westfield boss Frank Lowy as the richest man in Australia, thanks to a 77 per cent jump in the value of shares in Fortescue Metals Group since the start of June. It’s an incredible turnaround in just six months, particularly given Forrest has spent a good deal of that period voicing his concerns about what the Mineral Resource Rent Tax could do to his sector.

2. Gina Rinehart – $6.1 billion

Australia’s richest woman, Gina Rinehart, has made the headlines for her recent media sector investments in Ten Network and Fairfax Media, but it’s her iron ore empire that continues to boost her fortune. While Hancock Prospecting is fiercely private, the iron ore spot price and Rio Tinto’s share price provide good proxies. Both are up an impressive 30 per cent. And this is an extremely conservative valuation which doesn’t take in the full value of Rinehart’s potential $15 billion coal projects in Queensland.

3. Frank Lowy – $5.1 billion

Lowy’s fortune has increased slightly since July, thanks to a 5 per cent rise in Westfield shares. However, with the retail and property sectors under pressure, there is no way the veteran can compete with the mining barons. While much of Lowy’s year has been spent working on Australia’s failed World Cup bid, his company is in the middle of splitting its Australian and New Zealand assets into a separate trust.

4. Anthony Pratt and family – $4.8 billion

While rumours have swirled about the possibility that various parts of the Visy empire could be headed for a sharemarket float (most notably the family’s Pact Group, which is said to be worth $1 billion), they have once again come to naught, meaning listed packaging group Amcor remains the best proxy. It’s shares are up just over 5 per cent, taking the value of the Pratt empire to $4.8 billion – although this remains a conservative valuation.

5. James Packer – $4.4 billion

James Packer made big news when he launched a share raid on Ten Network, but it is his stake in Crown that continues to be the cornerstone of his fortune, and is valued at $2.3 billion. Crown is said to be considering selling some of its British assets in the coming months and re-investing in a more mass-market gaming operation; this could help diversify the business further from its Asian focus.

6. Harry Triguboff – $4.4 billion

Tracking the movements in the fortune of Sydney apartments king Harry Triguboff isn’t easy, but as most of his 3200-plus apartments are in Sydney, using the latest movements in Sydney apartment prices is a reasonable if crude measure. Prices are up about 4 per cent over the last six months, taking Triguboff’s fortune to just under that of Packer.

7. Clive Palmer – $4 billion

Clive Palmer is back talking about the float of his resources giant Resourcehouse again, according to this report from Bloomberg. Apparently the float could occur as early as the first few months of 2011, which would allow us a lot more insight into Palmer’s fortune. On some estimates, Palmer’s fortune could be double the number here but until we get some more details, it’s hard to lift Palmer’s fortune too far.

8. John Gandel – $3 billion

Shoppers might be piling into John Gandel’s Chadstone shopping centre in Melbourne for the traditional Christmas rush, but the retail veteran’s fortune has remained fairly stable over the last six months. Shares in CFS Retail Trust, in which he owns a $718 million stake, have fallen slightly since June, reflecting weakness in the wider retail sector.

9. Chris Wallin – $2.5 billion

Very little is known about Queensland coal billionaire Chris Wallin, who is the man behind private coal company QCoal. But he hit the headlines late last year when his company sold a 20 per cent stake in a Queensland coal project to Japan’s JFE Steel for $624 million valuing the remaining 80 per cent at just under $2.5 billion. QCoal also owns stakes in other mines and projects, which makes this valuation very conservative and Wallin a rising rich list star.

10. Kerr Neilson – $2.4 billion

The share price of Kerr Neilson’s Platinum Asset Management has increased about 6 per cent over the last six months, helping to add another $100 million to the value of his stake. When that amount is added to the proceeds Neilson received when he floated the company back in May 2007, he retains a formidable fortune.