Battery king zips past Li as HK's richest man

Top News | Bloomberg and Avery Chen 5 May 2021

The electric car boom has made a little-known billionaire, who chairs the world's biggest electric-vehicle battery supplier, the wealthiest person in Hong Kong - overtaking Li Ka-shing.

Robin Zeng Yuqun, the founder of Shenzhen-listed Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL), saw his worth rise more than 2.5 times from March 2020 to US$34.5 billion (HK$269.1 billion).

The company's shares have exploded by 235 percent since last March, when the Covid-19 pandemic shuttered dealerships and production sites in the mainland.

CATL returned to sales and profit growth in the second half after the effects of Covid-19 eased in China and demand rose from customers, including Tesla.

The 52-year-old became the wealthiest man in Hong Kong and the 39th richest person in the world, surpassing Li, who has a net worth of US$32.8 billion, says the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

He and Li tied for first place in the Forbes Hong Kong's Richest People List. The founder of Henderson Land Development, Lee Shau-kee, ranked third in the two rankings.

Born in Fujian, Zeng has a doctorate from the Institute of Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He acquired Hong Kong residency through the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme in 2005.

Most of Zeng's fortune is derived from his 25 percent stake in CATL. Zeng built the firm into China's battery champion in less than a decade, creating the largest global producer of rechargeable cells for the plug-in vehicles considered to be the future of cars.

CATL's products are in the vehicles of almost every major global auto brand. It also powers electric cars manufactured by Tesla at its new factory on the outskirts of Shanghai.

Zeng's team helped BMW's China joint venture develop its early battery-powered models, and CATL now has an 11-year supply contract with the German parent. At CATL's forerunner company, Zeng helped Apple deliver long-life batteries for the MacBook Air.

CATL's storage systems and power grids will begin production at a factory outside Erfurt this year. It is the first foreign plant for Zeng's business.

Headquartered in Zeng's hometown Ningde, Fujian, CATL's market valuation has grown to 904.23 billion yuan (HK$1.08 trillion). Its shares rose more than 11 percent to 388.17 yuan last week after posting a 22.4 percent increase.

It posted a 22.4 percent increase in the 2020 net profit to 5.6 billion yuan on April 27.

The shares rally took eight other CATL executives into the billionaires' ranking, including co-vice chairman Huang Shilin and Li Ping, whose fortunes were estimated at US$15.6 billion and US$7 billion by Forbes.

Meanwhile, Ethereum's 27-year-old creator, Vitalik Buterin, became a billionaire after the digital currency surged above US$3,000, marking a 325 percent rise since the beginning of this year.

The rise of Ether suggests there's room for more than one winner among digital tokens as the sector evolves. Bitcoin now accounts for about 46 percent of total crypto market value, down from 70 percent at the start of the year, and Ether makes up 15 percent, says tracker CoinGecko.

Bitcoin remains the biggest cryptocurrency but the momentum in other tokens is drawing increasing interest. Proponents argue investors are getting more comfortable with a variety of tokens, while critics contend the sector may be in the grip of a stimulus-fueled mania.

Ether is now occupying the limelight. An upgrade of the affiliated Ethereum blockchain as well as the network's popularity for financial services and crypto-collectibles are among the factors cited for the rally. Evercore ISI strategist Rich Ross has set a target of US$3,900 for the token.

Cryptocurrencies were broadly higher yesterday. Bitcoin climbed above US$58,000, while Ether jumped 6 percent to US$3,151.

Other cryptocurrencies have jumped too. The price of Binance Coin is up 3,460 percent over the past 12 months, says CoinGecko. Dogecoin, a token started as a joke in 2013 but now a social-media favorite touted by the likes of Elon Musk, has surged 15,000 percent to a market value of about US$50 billion.

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