It’s been a good year for Asia’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani.
The Indian tycoon added almost $17 billion to his wealth as of December 23, the most in Asia, taking his net worth to about $61 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. In comparison, Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma’s net worth grew $11.3 billion, while Jeff Bezos lost $13.2 billion.
The surge in Ambani’s fortune this year was fuelled by a 38% jump in the shares of his Reliance Industries Ltd, a conglomerate that’s pivoting more towards consumer offerings than its core oil refining and petrochemicals businesses. The rally in the stock is more than double the gains for India’s benchmark S&P BSE Sensex index during the period.
Investors are piling money on Reliance, betting newer businesses such as telecommunications and retail could soon unlock value. With a goal of building a local e-commerce giant to challenge the likes of Amazon.com Inc in India, Ambani has spent almost $50 billion — mostly debt — on a wireless carrier that’s become India’s No. 1 within three years of debut.
“Mukesh Ambani changed the narrative for Reliance Industries” as a leader not just in oil and gas but also in telecom and retail, and possibly soon in e-commerce as well, said Chakri Lokapriya, chief investment officer at TCG Asset Management, which oversees $3 billion in assets in Mumbai.
Zero Net Debt
While the success of the phone operator was a cause for cheer, the business mogul’s plans to pare Reliance’s debt has sent Reliance’s stock soaring to a record.
Ambani, 62, has vowed to slash the group’s net debt to zero by early 2021. Plans include a stake sale in Reliance’s oil-to-chemicals business to Saudi Arabian Oil Co, listings of the telecommunications and retail units within five years, sale of tower assets and strategic partners for a digital platform linked to Reliance Jio.