Consumers lay path to wealth for many Asian billionaires

Thu Mar 10, 2011 6:47am EST
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By Tony Munroe

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Voracious consumers in Asia laid the path for many of the region's newcomers to the world's billionaire club.

The new arrivals on the Forbes 2011 list of the world's richest people include Chinese makers of microwave ovens, sportswear, pharmaceuticals and sanitary napkins, as well as the founder of a private education company and two car distributors.

But the heyday of property as a source of wealth is far from over. The Indian developer of what will be the world's tallest residential building is among those in Asia joining the ranks of billionaires, the Forbes list shows.

Mainland China is home to 115 billionaires on the Forbes list, with India a distant second in Asia at 55.

China is in the process of shifting its economic reliance away from exports and more toward the domestic consumption of its one-billion plus population.

"More billionaires will be seen from those mid-end branded operators aiming at the middle class," said Alex Wong, a fund manager and director at Hong Kong-based Ample Finance Group.

"You are going to see more newcomers from the less capital-intensive retail segment, especially related to branding and those asset-light sourcing-related areas," he said.

China's rate of consumption has long been lower than other countries at a similar stage of development, drawing criticism from the United States and other countries that it keeps its currency artificially low to encourage exports.   Continued...

<p>A visitor to the China International Jewellery Fair walks past a poster and gold jewellery display in Beijing November 12, 2008. Chinese investors are still spending much less on gold than Chinese jewellery buyers. REUTERS/David Gray</p>