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On the surface, 2011-12 should have been something of a lost year for the members of Australia’s Rich List.
With the ASX 200 down about 13% over the last 12 months, and Australia in the midst of a dramatic period of structural change, many members of BRW’s Rich 200 are likely to see their fortunes remain flat or fall slightly when the list is released on Thursday.
But total wealth – which hit $167 billion last year – is still likely to rise thanks to one person: Gina Rinehart, whose fortune will climb by at least $8 billion and as much as $11 billion, depending on BRW’s final valuation.
Exactly where BRW sets its estimate of Rinehart’s wealth is one of the big questions on this year’s list, and its promotional material has suggested a range from $18 billion to $21 billion. I’m tipping $20 billion, but the final figure matters little – Rinehart is so far clear of the rest of the pack that she is likely to remain our wealthiest person for decades to come.
Two other big questions stand out for me. The first is how BRW decides to treat Clive Palmer, who was ranked at $5 billion last year in what now looks like an aggressive valuation. Palmer’s key coal project remains delayed and his investments in tourism and sport have hardly been huge successes. He will fall, but the question is by how much.
The other question is will there be any big reductions in the valuations of members in industries that are struggling. While the Pratt and Lowy families should be largely insulated from the worst effects of the structural change ripping through manufacturing and retail, other members may not be so lucky. Watch this space.
Here are our tips for the top 10 of this year’s list:
The total wealth held by members of the Rich 200 will rise in 2012 thanks in no small part to Australia’s richest person, Gina Rinehart.
Thanks to a deal to sell a stake in her Roy Hill iron ore project, Rinehart’s fortune has jumped from $10.3 billion to around $20 billion. While commodity prices have eased in recent months, the slight fall in the Australian dollar should mean Rinehart’s fortune remains steady. The big question is whether some of her empire will need to be transferred to her children, but for the moment Rinehart is unquestionably in control.
Ivan Glasenberg surged onto the Rich 200 last May thanks to the float of commodities trading giant Glencore, of which Glasenberg is chief executive and the largest shareholder. However, as the hype around the company has fallen, so has his wealth, which has dropped from $8.8 billion to just over $6 billion. Glasenberg is currently pursuing a merger with miner Xstrata, but heavy opposition is not making the deal a smooth one.
It hasn’t been a great 12 months for Australia’s manufacturing sector, although the impact this has had on Anthony Pratt’s Visy Industries empire is hard to gauge. Shares in its great Australian rival Amcor are up 5%, but given it does not have the same level of overseas operations, it seems reasonable to expect the family fortune would be broadly in line with last year.
Retail might be hurting, but the blue-chip landlord Westfield hasn’t suffered too badly, with its share price slightly higher across the last 12 months. However, any small increase in the value of the Lowy family’s Westfield stakes is likely to have been offset by small decreases in the value of its private portfolio of shares and property – another Rich 200 member who isn’t likely to have moved in the last year.
Twiggy Forrest looks likely to drop from third to fifth on this year’s list thanks to a 25% fall in the value of Fortescue Metals Group in the last 12 months. Forrest, who has watched his fortune bounce as high as $9.4 billion in 2008 to as low as $2.4 billion in 2010, isn’t likely to lose much sleep over the fall – he is a man used to the ebb and flow of the commodities cycle.
It’s been a pretty busy year for James Packer, who has emerged from what appeared to be a sell-off of his private investments to buy stakes in online businesses including Catch of the Day, Deals Direct and Temando. In addition, his stake in Consolidated Media has risen nicely in recent weeks thanks to speculation that he could sell to News Corporation or Telstra, while Crown Limited shares have been steady across the year. His fortune should tick up from just under $4.16 billion to around $4.4 billion.
Property prices across the country have been soft in the last 12 months, but with Meriton Apartments chief Harry Triguboff it’s all about Sydney and all about unit prices, which have fallen 1.8% over the last year. That would suggest Triguboff’s fortune has fallen slightly from last year’s $4.3 billion, with James Packer sneaking past him in the top 10 rankings.
Chadstone shopping centre owner John Gandel took some money off the table last year, selling a stake in the Northland shopping centre in Melbourne for $455 million. This deal and a very small increase in the value of his stake in CFS Retail Trust should see his fortune tick up slightly. Chadstone is set for a major redevelopment – Gandel’s fortune is now tightly tied to the centre.
Queensland coal baron Chris Wallin keeps an extraordinarily low profile, so figuring out exactly how a 20% fall in coal prices may have affected his business is not easy. Assuming a 20% cut to his 2011 valuation of $3.1 billion suggests the empire is now worth $2.5 billion. It’s a rough estimate, but Wallin remains a man of mystery.
Here’s my thinking on Palmer. The failure to launch the Resourcehouse float last year and the subsequent delays to the China First project that the company is developing mean you have to severely discount the value of this company – perhaps to as low as $500 million. However, a deal last month in which Chinese conglomerate Citic Pacific paid Palmer’s company Mineralogy $US200 million for the rights to mine another billion tonnes of magnetite iron ore in Western Australia is important.
Citic has now paid Palmer $US615 million in total, and will pay him a royalty of $180 million next year regardless of whether its project goes ahead. If the project is successful, royalties could be as high as $400 million a year – but there are some “ifs” there. If we assume Palmer’s Citic deal pays royalties of $100 million a year, and we apply a multiple of 10, then his total take from the project could be as high as $1.5 billion. Add the Resourcehouse pile and some other assets and we’re looking at around $2.3 billion. But that is an optimistic reading – and it’s a long way from last year’s $5 billion.
This article first appeared on SmartCompany.