Business

Battery tycoon charges ahead in wealth rankings


(BLOOMBERG) – Looks like selling car batteries is a better business than e-commerce and fintech combined.

After all, Dr Zeng Yuqun, founder of the world’s biggest electric-vehicle battery maker, has overtaken Mr Jack Ma in the wealth rankings, a symbolic moment in the rise of China’s green billionaires.

His net worth has jumped to US$49.5 billion (S$67 billion), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, as shares of Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL) surged this year.

That exceeds Alibaba Group co-founder Mr Ma’s wealth of US$48.1 billion and makes Dr Zeng one of the five richest people in Asia for the first time.

Investors have pushed up stocks such as CATL, a key supplier to Tesla, as the country leads the market for electric-vehicle sales and pursues an ambitious policy of reaching carbon neutrality in 2060.

“The billionaire ranking used to be dominated by real estate tycoons and later tech entrepreneurs, and now we are seeing more from the new energy sector,” said Mr Hao Gao, director of Tsinghua University’s NIFR Global Family Business Research Centre.

“As the industry leader for electric-vehicle batteries, CATL will benefit most from the carbon emission goal.”

Dr Zeng, 53, who hails from a village in Fujian in south-east China, built CATL into a battery juggernaut in less than a decade, creating the largest global producer of rechargeable cells for plug-in vehicles.

Global electric-vehicle battery sales more than doubled in the first four months of this year from a year earlier, with CATL accounting for 32.5 per cent of the market.

CATL’s stock has surged more than 20-fold since the company went public in Shenzhen in 2018. It is up about 60 per cent this year alone as demand for electric vehicles increases, countries work to reduce carbon emissions and costs tumble.

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CATL trades at more than 100 times estimated earnings, compared with about 13 times for its competitor Panasonic.

In addition to Tesla, CATL counts BMW and Volkswagen among its customers.

In an interview last year, Dr Zeng said he and Tesla chief executive officer Elon Musk text about technology, Covid-19 and Mr Musk’s main interest: cheaper batteries and cars.

Dr Zeng, who earned his doctorate in condensed matter physics from the Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing, is not the only billionaire who is benefiting from the surge in CATL’s stock. Mr Huang Shilin, a vice-chairman of the company, is worth more than US$21 billion, while Mr Li Ping, who is also a vice-chairman, has a fortune worth US$8.5 billion.

As Dr Zeng’s star rises, Mr Ma’s has been on the wane. The value of Mr Ma’s fintech arm Ant Group has plummeted since the former English teacher openly pushed back against Beijing, prompting the Chinese authorities to quash the company’s plans for a huge initial public offering. Mr Ma, 56, has all but dropped from public view, and has lost US$2.5 billion in wealth this year.





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