Singapore's economic turnaround is gathering speed. The island-state, whose GDP shrank by 1.3% in 2009, is looking to surpass China to become Asia's fastest-growing economy. Its GDP, up 16% in the first quarter, is forecast to rise an impressive 13% to 15% this year. Though a slower revival elsewhere (notably in the U.S. and in China's lower than expected growth in the second quarter) have tempered the gains, the Straits Times Index has risen 12% since last year. The fortunes of the country's 40 richest reflect this resurgence: Their total net worth is $45.7 billion, up from last year's $39 billion.
The family of Ng Teng Fong, who was Singapore's richest individual last year and died in February, is at No. 1 with a combined net worth of $7.8 billion. While right now it isn't clear how the fortune is split among the family, it is one of the few that declined. Although Singapore's property sector overall has been performing well, their stake in Hong Kong developer Tsim Sha Tsui dropped on fears of a slowdown in China. Banker Wee Cho Yaw moved up two ranks to No. 3, as shares in his United Overseas Bank outperformed the market, gaining 17%.
Overall 26 on the list saw their wealth increase, including Malaysian citizen Ong Beng Seng and his wife, Christina Ong, who together are worth a billion for the first time thanks to the better performance of their hotel and retailing empire. Banker Lee Seng Wee also entered the billionaire ranks, in part because we've included the assets of all his siblings and children in his net worth. Another big gainer was chocolate king John Chuang, who is worth $295 million, up from last year's $190 million. Shares in his Petra Foods, which he founded with his brothers, surged nearly 50% since last year.
New to the list but probably not to Forbes Asia readers: New Zealand-born social entrepreneur Richard Chandler, who debuts at No. 5 with a $3.4 billion fortune. He established his Orient Global investment funds in Singapore in 2006, which he recently renamed R.F. Chandler. John Lim, who cofounded ARA Asset Management with Li Ka-Shing’s Cheung Kong Holdings, also makes his debut with a net worth of $202 million. Making a comeback after a two-year absence is retailer Ron Sim, whose company, OSIM, which sells massage chairs and health care products, climbed out of the red after writing off its loss-making investment in U.S. retailer Brookstone.
Only seven on the list are poorer than they were in 2009. Concerns about Beijing's interventions in the property market took a toll on real estate tycoon Zhong Sheng Jian, who made his fortune off China's property boom. His net worth of $1.8 billion was off 10% from last year. Vivian Chandran, who cashed out of her late husband's marine fuel company Chemoil earlier this year, took a hit by selling her 51% stake at a 21% discount to the market price.
A minimum net worth of $190 million was needed to make the cut, up from $135 million in 2009. Four of last year's top 40 failed to make the grade, including shipbuilder Brian Chang, who dropped off the list after four years. Wong Ngit Liong, who runs electronics maker Venture Corp., and Goh Lik Tuan also fell just short.
Public fortunes were calculated using share prices and exchange rates as of July 14. For privately held assets, we estimated what they would be worth if public. This ranking, unlike Forbes' list of the world's billionaires, includes numerous family fortunes shared by individuals with their children and grandchildren, or with their siblings. Where family fortunes are held by extended families, such as the Kwek cousins, we split them into separate entries.