MANILA (AFP) — A shopping mall mogul has become the Philippines richest man after amassing 1.4 billion dollars in past year, while his peers were hit by the global financial crisis, it was announced Thursday.
The fortune that Henry Sy made was the "biggest gain in absolute terms" of the country's wealthiest 40 families, who saw their collective wealth plunge 18 percent amid the world credit turmoil, Forbes magazine said in a statement.
In its annual list of the Philippines' richest people, Forbes said the country's stock exchange had dived 35 percent in the past year, making 25 out of 40 tycoons -- including those in banking and real estate -- were poorer.
Forbes said the Sy family was now worth 3.1 billion dollars, vaulting from second place to first.
The low-profile 83-year-old and his family control SM Investments, which owns stakes in a dozen companies including the nation's second largest bank.
Sy started off selling shoes to American GIs in the Philippines in 1958. From one store known as Shoemart, he built a multi-billion dollar empire.
Today he is Asia's biggest shopping mall operator with 30 mega malls throughout the Philippines.
Jaime Zobel de Ayala and family slipped from first to third as their wealth suffered a massive drop of 800 million dollars, to 1.2 billion dollars, Forbes said.
The stock of their conglomerate Ayala Corp. is down 46 percent since last year in part because of the economic slowdown and declining profits in banking and electronics manufacturing units, it said.
Moving up to second position is Lucio Tan and family, with a net worth of 1.5 billion dollars, although this is still down by 100 million dollars from last year.
Tan controls Philippine airlines as well as the country's largest cigarette firm, one of its largest brewers, mining operations and Hong Kong property.
Also hit hard is property tycoon Andrew Gotianun of Filinvest Land, who fell 10 places to 17th after losing 625 million dollars to give him a net worth of 235 million dollars.
Senate President Manuel Villar, the largest shareholder in high-end homebuilder Vista Land, also saw his wealth tumble 55 percent to 425 million dollars to put him in 11th, down from fifth last year.
Another property kingpin, Andrew Tan, saw his net worth plunge 400 million dollars to 700 million dollars.
The 57-year old made much of his wealth as an office developer for the outsourcing industry and is now betting on gaming and tourism.
Of the 40 richest Filipinos this year, 11 tycoons eked out gains but almost all of those increases were because of reporting on new assets or shareholdings or the combination of relatives' stakes, including Sy.
The Philippines had three billionaires this year compared with four last year as Andrew Tan lost this elite status.
Lourdes Montinola seemed to buck the trend as shares of her Far Eastern University increased 38 million dollars to vault her to number 31 with a net worth of 68 million dollars.
There was only one newcomer, Alfredo Ramos of Atlas Consolidated Mining, who debuted at number 23 with a net worth 126 million dollars.
A net worth of 30 million dollars is required to make the Philippines rich list, unchanged from last year. Fourteen tycoons had net worth of less than 100 million dollars and four of last year's members failed to make the cut.
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