By Eric Bellman
Indonesia now has more billionaires than Japan, as Southeast Asia’s largest economy’s expanding middle class continues to ignore the global economic slowdown and shop, pushing up the value of the companies that sell them new stuff and services. Forbes Indonesia’s latest list of the country’s richest people, released this week, sets its billionaire tally at a record 32 people and families, edging out Japan, which Forbes says is home to 28 billionaires. Last year Indonesia had 26 billionaires, according to Forbes’ calculations. While the archipelago’s crowd of coal magnates was hit hard by a plunge in coal prices, the commodities collapse was more than offset by the growing wealth of the people behind the country’s top retail, media, banking, food and tobacco companies.
“The thing that really stands out is that the money of those that produce something for the middle class has been rising while those that made money mostly from commodities went down” in ranking, said Justin Doebele, chief editorial adviser of Forbes Indonesia.
Topping the ranks were R. Budi and Michael Hartono, worth $15 billion thanks largely to their holdings in Bank Central Asia. Also in the top five was Anthony Salim and family ($5.2 billion), who are behind the world’s largest instant noodle company, Indofood.
Newcomers included mall and property developer Alexander Tedja ($790 million) and snack manufacturer Garudafood’s Suhamek ($760 million). The poorest rich man on the list was newbie Eddy Kusnadi Sariaatmadja ($730 million), who made his money selling computers and now manages television stations.
Many of the country’s coal barons got burned this year. Banyan Resources’ Low Tuck Kwong saw his worth slip by close to half to around $2 billion, according to Forbes, while presidential hopeful Aburizal Bakrie and his family fell off the list entirely, as falling coal prices and a boardroom battle over control of their London-listed companyBumi PLC BUMI.LN -0.52%slammed the value of their assets.
While a lack of public disclosure can make it difficult to estimate exact wealth, Indonesia’s bulging batch of billionaires shows that family fortunes have been largely protected across the archipelago even as most of the world struggles with a slowdown.
And though Indonesia’s billionaires club is still smaller than the ranks in China (more than 100 billionaires) and India (more than 50 billionaires), with less than one-fourth the population of China and India, it has more billionaires per capita.
Indonesia expects its gross domestic product to expand more than 6% this year as well as next year. It has been attracting a record amount of foreign direct investment as companies including Toyota Motor Corp. 7203.TO -0.28%, Nestlé SA and General Electric Co. GE -1.47% have been ramping up their capacities in the country to better target its emerging consumers.
Indeed, many countries in Southeast Asia have been shining while the rest of the world slumps. The region is now home to the world’s richest country by some measures – Singapore – and hundreds of thousands of new millionaires.