RICH PICKINGS: Rich list preview

With BRW's Rich 200 list for 2010 due to be released next week, we take a look at the fortunes, and misfortunes, of some of Australia's wealthiest over the past year and predict where they will rate.

The 2010 edition of BRW magazine’s Rich 200 list is set to hit the streets on May 27 and after last year’s record fall in total wealth – down a staggering $25 billion in 12 months – we can expect to see our richest entrepreneurs fight back strongly.

From the middle of May 2009 to mid May 2010, the ASX 200 rose around 16 per cent. If the Rich 200 has tracked the index – and they typically outperform it – then the total wealth of those on the list is likely to rise to around $132 billion, up by around $18 billion on last year.

But, of course, the Rich 200 is about individual stories, so here are 10 predictions for some of our richest entrepreneurs:

Frank Lowy will take the title of Australia’s richest person

The tussle for supremacy on the Rich 200 is likely to come down to a fight between three men – incumbent Anthony Pratt, Westfield supremo Frank Lowy and Fortescue Metals chief Andrew Forrest, who surged to the top of Forbes magazine’s list of Australia’s richest earlier this year. Unfortunately for Twiggy, Fortescue shares have since fallen, placing him just below Pratt and Lowy on around $4.4 billion, according to my calculations.

In the original version of this column (published Friday), I expected Pratt ($4.3 billion on last’ year’s list) would once again edge out Lowy ($4.2 billion last year) but BRW’s promo ads suggesting a new number one have forced me to change my tune. While the value of packaging companies has increased sharply in the last year (shares in Amcor, the closest listed competitor to Visy, are up 40 per cent) the value of Lowy’s Westfield stake has risen by about $600 million over the last 12 months. That could put him just ahead of Pratt.

Andrew Forrest will post the biggest rise on the list

Don’t feel too sorry for Twiggy, though – he's still likely to post the biggest rises on the Rich 200. Forrest has been on the rich list rollercoaster over the last few years. His fortune soared to $9.41 billion in 2008, then crashed to $2.38 billion last year while the global financial crisis hammered Fortescue’s share price. Expect Twiggy’s fortune to rise by around $2 billion to $4.4 billion in this year’s edition. Note that share prices were likely to have been calculated a few weeks ago, before the announcement of the proposed resource super profits tax, when around $740 million was sliced off Twiggy’s fortune.

Clive Palmer could record the biggest fall

It will be extremely interesting to see how BRW treats the fortune of Clive Palmer, who saw his wealth increased from $1.5 billion to $3.42 billion last year. In late 2009, Palmer was being talked about as Australia’s up-and-coming richest man, with a fortune estimated at as much as $12 billion. But a series of issues, including the shelving of his on-again-off-again float in Hong Kong and the resource super profits tax, have raised questions about how rich Palmer really is. The problem is that so many of his projects remain undeveloped and difficult to value; Forbes didn’t even include Palmer on its billionaires list. I think BRW could well reduce Palmer’s valuation, and potentially by a hefty amount.

David Teoh will be Australia’s new dotcom superstar

The most stunning debut on the BRW Rich 200 will almost certainly come from David Teoh, chief executive of internet service provider TPG. In the last 12 months, the company’s share price has risen from just 30c to over $2, valuing Teoh’s stake at $570 million. While Teoh is notoriously reclusive when it comes to talking to the media, he is seen as an aggressive entrepreneur determined to grow his empire quickly. Last year TPG acquired Pipe Network in a $373 million deal, after merging TPG and SP Telemedia in April 2008. His arrival on the BRW Rich 200 will make him a clear winner of the title of Australia’s richest techie.

James Packer will make an impressive comeback

James Packer has had a tough year, with critics lining up to blast his business acumen, or lack thereof. His fortune fell from $6.1 billion to $3 billion according to last year’s list, but I am expecting an impressive comeback thanks to sharp increases in the share prices of Crown Limited and Consolidated Media, plus a string of asset sales. Expect his fortune to rise to around $3.8 billion on this year’s list.

Ken Talbot will be knocking on the door of the billionaire’s club

Mining baron Ken Talbot faces a difficult year, with his trial on charges of making corrupt payments to a former Queensland government minister set to start in August. However, the founder and former chief executive of Macarthur Coal has made a series of canny investments (and sales) in the resources sector in the last 18 months, building an impressive portfolio of shares and a pile of cash he plans to invest in direct mine development. His fortune is likely to rise from $750 million to around $850 million on this year’s list.

Kerr Neilsen will lead the financial services resurgence

Australia’s investment bankers were hammered during the last 18 months, but they're starting to fight back. Kerr Neilsen, whose fortune fell from $2.1 billion in 2008 to $1.6 billion in 2009, should lead the charge, with his fortune likely to rise by around $250 million at least. The rebound in global markets should also help the reclusive David Hains boost his fortune.

Paul Ramsay will return to the billionaire’s club

There are two arms to the Paul Ramsay empire: the health arm, represented by his private hospital operator Ramsay Health Care; and the media arm, represented by Prime Media. The fortunes of the two companies couldn’t be more different. While Prime Media’s share price has continued to fall over the last 12 months as its losses have mounted, Ramsay Health Care is going from strength to strength. Its shares are up by more than a third in the last 12 months, helping lift the value of Ramsay’s personal stake to more than $1 billion, up from around $760 million this time last year. That’s enough to take Ramsay back to the very top echelon.

Australia’s other Sun King will continue to fade

Chinese-based solar panel entrepreneur Zhengrong Shi crashed out of the billionaire’s club last year as the share price of his Suntech Power crashed. Unfortunately, the news hasn’t got any better in the last 12 months, with Suntech’s share price falling from $US15 to around $US10.

The richest person in Australia won’t make the Rich 200

Here’s one I know to be true. Earlier this year, Forbes named little-known American immigrant Blair Parry-Okeden as Australia’s richest person, with a fortune of $5.25 billion. Parry-Okeden, who lives in near anonymity in the NSW regional town of Scone, inherited a 25 per cent stake in US media company Cox Enterprises from her mother Barbara Cox Anthony, who died in 2007. But as she is still a US citizen, she is not eligible for inclusion on this Rich 200.