Tencent chair and CEO Pony Ma. Picture: REUTERS
Tencent chair and CEO Pony Ma. Picture: REUTERS

Hong Kong — Tencent Holdings’ $40bn surge this week and the recent ascent of Pinduoduo (PDD) have reshaped the landscape of China’s richest people.

The country’s largest game developer has surpassed Alibaba Group Holding as Asia’s most-valuable company, with its shares rising above HK$500 ($64.50) in intra-day trading on Wednesday for the first time. PDD, a Groupon-like shopping app has more than doubled this year.

The rallies have propelled the wealth of their founders, with an added twist: Tencent’s Pony Ma, worth $50bn, has surpassed Jack Ma’s $48bn fortune, becoming China’s richest person. And Colin Huang of PDD, whose net worth stands at $43bn, has squeezed real estate mogul Hui Ka Yan of China Evergrande Group out of the top three earlier this year, according to the Bloomberg billionaires index.

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed forward the digitalisation of the workplace and changed consumers’ habits, boosting shares of many internet companies. Now, tech tycoons are dominating the ranks of China’s richest people. They take up four of the top five spots: Ding Lei of Tencent peer NetEase. follows China Evergrande’s Hui.

‘Perform strongly’

Tencent, in which Naspers has a 31.2% stake, has come a long way since hitting a low in 2018, when China froze the approval process for new games. Since then, the stock has almost doubled, and last month the tech giant reported a 26% jump in revenue for the first quarter.

“Tencent’s online games segment will probably perform strongly through the Covid-19 pandemic, and most of its other businesses are relatively unscathed,” said Vey-Sern Ling, senior analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

That’s been a boon for Pony Ma, who owns a 7% stake in the company and pocketed about $757m from selling some 14.6-million of his Tencent shares this year, data complied by Bloomberg shows.

Pony Ma, a native of China’s southern Guangdong province, studied computer science at Shenzhen University and was a software developer at a supplier of telecom services and products before co-founding Tencent with four others in the late 1990s. At the time, the company focused on instant-messaging services.

It’s been a long comeback for Pony Ma. He overtook real estate tycoon Wang Jianlin as China’s second-richest person in 2013 and topped Baidu’s Robin Li as the wealthiest in early 2014. Later that year, Alibaba went public in the US, catapulting Jack Ma’s fortune.

Bloomberg Intelligence’s Ling notes, however, that Tencent’s jump this year has lagged some internet peers, especially those in e-commerce, games and online entertainment. Just consider: Tencent shares have climbed 31% in 2020, compared with 121% for PDD.


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