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Credit crunch hurts India’s wealthiest too

Credit crunch hurts India’s wealthiest too
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First Published: Wed, Nov 26 2008. 12 30 AM IST

Losing out: DLF chairman K.P. Singh was among the worst hit. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
Losing out: DLF chairman K.P. Singh was among the worst hit. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
Updated: Wed, Nov 26 2008. 05 59 PM IST
Mumbai: These are painful times for India’s tycoons, the Forbes Asia Rich List said recently.
A falling stock market, a weak rupee and slowing economic growth have shaved about 60% off the wealth of the country’s 40 richest people, it said in its annual compilation, with their net worth plunging to $139 billion (Rs6.95 trillion) from $351 billion a year ago.
No small change that, and it’s got to hurt.
Losing out: DLF chairman K.P. Singh was among the worst hit. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
“They’re definitely feeling the pain,” said Sonu Bhasin, president of retail finance at Axis Bank Ltd, and head of the bank’s private banking and wealth management divisions, which have nevertheless continued to add new clients in recent months.
“Everyone’s hurting, everyone’s in a panic, but the wealthy get noticed more and their concerns get addressed,” she said.
An economy that grew at about 9% in the last three years and a six-year bull run on the stock market helped mint new millionaires in Asia’s third largest economy. India had 123,000 millionaires in 2007 and showed the fastest pace of expansion, a Merrill Lynch-Capgemini report said.
But a stock market rout has meant local investors have “notionally lost almost a year’s GDP”, Credit Suisse said.
Bhasin’s clients, who are high net-worth individuals, are seeking more professional advice now, and also favouring more traditional investment options such as bank deposits, she said.
“They are seeking safety: fixed deposits are making a huge comeback, and there is also some interest in gold,” Bhasin said. “We’ve always told clients making money is a boring exercise. Now, they’re being more realistic and willing to be bored.”
The reality is harsh for steel baron Lakshmi Mittal, chief of ArcelorMittal, the world’s top steel maker, who gave up his No. 1 position on the Forbes list because of crashing prices.
The new No. 1, Mukesh Ambani, chief of India’s top private firm Reliance Industries Ltd, has a net worth of about $21 billion, Forbes estimates, down 58% from last year.
That does not seem to have hit construction of his $1 billion home on Mumbai’s Altamount Road, among the most expensive residential addresses in the world, even though other luxury apartments in the city are finding few takers.
“In the home segment of more than Rs100 million, demand is very weak because it is linked to big bonuses and stock market returns, which have taken a hit,” said Abhisheck Lodha, a director at developer Lodha Group in Mumbai.
Real estate tycoons such as top realtor DLF Ltd’s K.P. Singh have seen the biggest wealth erosion this year, Forbes noted, while windmill maker Suzlon Energy Ltd’s founders have lost their billionaire status and flamboyant liquor baron Vijay Mallya, head of the UB Group, has dropped off the Forbes list on losses to his airline.
“Business founders were the worst hit as the largest shareholders,” said the Credit Suisse report, which estimated the top 20 business groups in India have lost about 71% of the value of their listed investments, or $226 billion, this year.
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First Published: Wed, Nov 26 2008. 12 30 AM IST