RICH PICKINGS: The well-to-do list

The BRW Rich 200 has always been a public record of which Australians have made their fortunes. This year it will also become a record of those who lost it.

It’s the time of year that wealth watchers love – the release of BRW’s annual Rich 200 list, which is out on May 29.

The contrast between this year’s list and last year’s will be stark.

Last year, the big story was the incredible explosion in the wealth of the Rich 200 members: the total wealth increased 27 per cent to $128 billion, nine new billionaires joined the list and cut-off for inclusion on the list leapt from $130 million to $180 million.

This year, the big theme will be how much money has been lost. Turmoil on global equity markets and a string of big company collapses will certainly mean the departure of a few big names, including ABC’s Eddy Groves, Allco’s David Coe, and MFS pair Phil Adams and Michael King.

Without knowing exactly what the cut-off will be this year, it’s possible that stockmarket turmoil could mean saying goodbye to other members involved in listed companies such as Platinum Asset Management’s Andrew Clifford, Mortgage Choice’s Peter and Rod Higgins, APN Property Group’s Chris Aylward and Babcock & Brown’s Michael Maxwell.

Other members that will experience big drops in wealth include James Packer (due to weakness in the shares of casino business Crown), Frank Lowy (due to a fall in Westfield shares) and Chinese solar entrepreneur Shi Zhengrong, whose Nasdaq-listed Suntech Power Holdings has been smashed by investors since the start of the year.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Come Thursday, Australia will officially have a new richest man, with Fortescue’s Andrew Forrest taking the title from James Packer. Since Fortescue shipped its first tonnes of iron ore two weeks ago, Forrest’s wealth has crept ever closer to the magic $10 billion mark – a staggering figure, given Forrest was worth $3.89 billion a year ago and just $810 million in 2006. On my calculations he’s worth about $9.7 billion, but given that some analysts are predicting the stock could rise from its current level of around $9.70 to as much as $12, it is a matter of when, not if, Forrest becomes the $10 billion man.

One of the biggest debuts on the list will be made by Nathan Tinkler, whose recent $70 million splurge on land and race horses has been followed closely in this column. Tinkler made news last week when he sold his 10 per cent stake in coal miner Macarthur Coal for $440 million to Indian steel giant ArcelorMittal. Tinkler gained his stake in Macarthur when he sold his own business, Custom Mining, to Macarthur late last year for $65 million in cash and $200 million in shares. In less than five months Tinkler has made more than $200 million on his Macarthur shares – which should pay for a few more horses.

Macarthur founder Ken Talbot, who also sold part of his stake to ArcelorMittal last week, will be one of the few Rich 200 members to post an increase in wealth this year. The takeover tussle for Macarthur has helped the stock quadruple in the last 12 months. Talbot’s remaining stake is worth around $840 million and he’ll be hoping that Macarthur’s suitors push the bidding even higher in the coming weeks.

Other resources industry figures who will rise up with Rich 200 this year include Aquila Resources chief Tony Poli, former Jubilee boss Kerry Harmanis and Gina Rinehart.

Given the secrecy that many of Australia’s wealthy private entrepreneurs operate in, it’s difficult to tell exactly how the slowdown in the global economy will affect the list. But it’s also worth noting that many of Rich 200 members have been waiting for the market to turn down – it is much easier to find bargains and take out the competition when the economy slows.

Following the strategies of Australia’s rich has always been a solid strategy for investors, and that makes BRW’s Rich 200 required reading.

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