Thursday, May 14, 2009

Packer rebounds as Australia's richest, by Trevor Chappell - The Sydney Morning Herald - 14th May 2009

Gambling tycoon James Packer is Australia's richest man after a slump in the resources sector eroded the fortune of the previous wealth leader, iron-ore magnate Andrew Forrest.

Forbes Asia magazine's 2009 list of rich Australians shows Mr Packer, 41, took back the top mantle from third position.

But his estimated wealth fell to $US3.1 billion ($A4.12 billion), from $US5.3 billion in 2008, following a drop in the share prices of his casinos and media interests.

Mr Packer's interests in Australia include the Crown casino in Melbourne and the Burswood casino in Perth.

Mr Forrest, the boss of Fortescue Metals Group Ltd, crashed to fifth, after his fortune shrank to $US1.65 billion ($A2.19 billion), from almost $US5 billion, as waning China demand for iron ore caused Fortescue's shares to drop by two-thirds.

Second on the list was shopping centre developer Frank Lowy, whose wealth decreased to $US2.8 billion ($A3.72 billion), from $US4.4 billion.

Harry Triguboff, head of Australia's biggest builder of apartments, Meriton, was third with $US2 billion ($A2.66 billion), down from $US2.7 billion.

Forbes Asia said that overall, Australia's billionaires and millionaires were less wealthy than they were 12 months ago, when the global financial crisis began to bite.

The number of billionaires among Australia's 40 richest business people contracted from 16 to nine.

However, three increased their wealth.

The head of hedge fund group CQS, Michael Hintze, had $US150 million ($A199.15 million) more to roll in and was in 12th position with $US900 million ($A1.19 billion).

At number 14 was Macarthur Coal founder Ken Talbot, whose fortune grew to $US750 million ($A995.75 million), from $US620 million.

Property tycoon Maurice Alter's wealth grew by $US20 million ($A26.55 million), to $US590 million ($A783.32 million).

Forbes Asia said Australia's tycoons were also getting older, with 16 on the list of 40 aged 70 years or more.

Packaging magnate Richard Pratt, who died in April from cancer aged 78, was replaced on the rich list by his son Anthony.

Anthony Pratt, who now heads Visy Industries, was in sixth spot, with a net worth of $US1.6 billion ($A2.12 billion).

Other newcomers to the list were Reece Australia chairman Leslie Alan Wilson at 28th with $US445 million ($A590.81 million), and gaming magnate Bruce Mathieson at 36th with $US350 million ($A464.68 million).

Mining heiress Gina Rinehart remained Australia's richest woman and seventh overall with $US1.5 billion ($A1.99 billion), down from $US2.4 billion in 2008.

Forbes Asia said that for the first time since it began compiling the annual list, a New Zealander was richer than the wealthiest Australian.

Kiwi Graeme Hart's mountain of money is estimated at $US4.7 billion ($A6.24 billion), well above Mr Packer.

Mr Hart made his fortune in the paper and packaging sector. (Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald)

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