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China's bottled-water king is richer than Warren Buffett

Nongfu Spring's Zhong Shanshan now sixth-richest person on the planet

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Mr Zhong dethroned India's Mukesh Ambani as Asia's wealthiest person last week and is close to entering the rarefied realm of individuals worth more than US$100 billion.

Beijing

ZHONG Shanshan is setting new wealth records. The chairman of Nongfu Spring, a bottled-water company that is ubiquitous in China, is now richer than Warren Buffett as his fortune surged US$13.5 billion to US$91.7 billion since the start of the year, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Mr Zhong, 66, is now the sixth-wealthiest person on the planet. Nongfu shares jumped 18 per cent in the first two trading days of 2021, taking the advance since their September 2020 listing to 200 per cent.

It is only the second time that a Chinese national has broken into the world's Top 10 - property tycoon Wang Jianlin hit No 8 in 2015 - and no one from the mainland has ever ranked this high on Bloomberg's wealth index since it was launched in 2012.

Locally nicknamed the "Lone Wolf" for avoiding involvement in clubby business groups or politics, Mr Zhong also took vaccine maker Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise public in April last year. The stock has soared more than 2,500 per cent.

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Mr Zhong dethroned India's Mukesh Ambani as Asia's wealthiest person last week and is close to entering the rarefied realm of individuals worth more than US$100 billion.

Mr Buffett is outside that group with a US$86.2 billion fortune, but the Berkshire Hathaway founder has given away more than US$37 billion of stock since 2006.

Investors are snapping up Chinese consumer shares as the country demonstrates that it is recovering from Covid-19, while analysts have grown increasingly bullish on Nongfu.

Mr Zhong has also helped four relatives become billionaires. His younger sister, Zhong Xiaoxiao, and three of his wife's siblings each hold a 1.4 per cent stake in Nongfu worth about US$1.3 billion, based on the ownership listed in the company's prospectus from last year. The firm has also produced dozens of millionaires, including more of Mr Zhong's relatives and employees.

While Covid-19 upended much of the global economy in 2020, it was a good year for the world's ultra-rich. The 500 wealthiest people added US$1.8 trillion to their fortunes and were worth a combined US$7.6 trillion by year's end.

Mr Zhong, the biggest winner from Asia, amassed more than US$71 billion - the most after Tesla's Elon Musk and Amazon's Jeff Bezos.

One notable exception is Jack Ma, who was until recently Asia's richest person. He has not been seen in public since Chinese regulators torpedoed Ant Group's US$35 billion initial public offering. His net worth has dropped about US$10 billion since last October and he is now the world's 25th-richest person. BLOOMBERG

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