Forbes Arabia Magazine, the Arabic edition of the world-renowned Forbes business magazine, has unveiled its “Arab Billionaires List for 2009” in its April issue. The line-up includes 34 Arabs with a combined wealth of around USD 115.8 billion, 35 per cent lower than last year’s USD 177.6 billion.
In terms of the total wealth of the billionaires, the UAE with a combined wealth of USD 21.4 billion of its six billionaires is ranked second in the Arab World behind Saudi Arabia. The new entrant to the billionaire list from the UAE is Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who with a personal wealth of USD 4.9 billion ranks second in the UAE, 8th among Arab billionaires and 104th globally. The 2009 billionaires list saw the exclusion of UAE’s Mahdi Al Tajir.
Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Minister for UAE Presidential Affairs, is the newest billionaire in the Gulf region. Sheikh Mansour is the first person from the royal family in Abu Dhabi to run an investment business under his own name. Sheikh Mansour emerged as a major international investor in September 2008 when he acquired the English football club ‘Manchester City’ in a USD 300 billion deal. Further, his investments expanded in the United Kingdom with his role in bailing out Barclays Bank after the British Government was set to nationalize it. For this bail-out Sheikh Mansour teamed up with Qatar Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund institute in Qatar, to offer USD 9.6 billion to the bank.
Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, CEO of Mashreq Bank, one of the largest retail banks in the UAE, is ranked first in the UAE, fourth in the Arab World and 57th globally, with an estimated wealth of USD 7.8 billion. This is seen as a noteworthy achievement since the economic downturn has affected the banking sector and has led to an 18 per cent decline in the value of Mashreq Bank’s shares from June 2008 to present.
Placed third in the UAE is Majid Al Futtaim, founder and president of the Majid Al Futtaim Group, with a wealth valued at USD 3 billion. He ranks 12th in the Arab World and 205th globally. Al Futtaim invests mainly in the real estate and retail sectors, and is known for introducing snowboarding to the deserts of Dubai. Further, he is currently working to expand his investments in Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. He has also contributed greatly in the establishment of the fastest growing chain store in the Gulf region through a joint venture with the French store Carrefour.
Taking the fourth rank in the UAE is the family of Saif Al Ghurair with a total wealth of USD 2.8 billion, resulting in a ranking of 16th in the Arab World and 224th globally. The Al Ghurair family has a leading reputation in the retail sector through the Al Ghurair Group, which comprises prime shopping malls in Dubai. In the wake of the global financial crisis, the Group introduced a promotional campaign to overcome the repercussions of the crisis in the UAE market and to attract more customers to Dubai.
Placed fifth in the UAE is Abdullah Al Futtaim with a wealth of USD 1.8 billion, resulting in a ranking of 22nd in the Arab World and 397th globally. Abdullah Al Futtaim specialises in the area of automobile trading, with exclusive distribution rights for Toyota and other automobile brands. The Group also owns the franchise of top brands such as Ikea and IBM.
Taking the sixth place in the UAE is the businessman Khalaf Al Habtoor, Chairman of Al Habtoor Group, who with a wealth of USD 1.1 billion is placed 29th in the Arab World and 647th globally. Al Habtoor’s investments in the area of luxury hotels and hospitals have contributed greatly in enhancing his position in the construction sector, in addition to his activities in automobile trade. Al Habtoor Motors is the exclusive distributor in the UAE for Aston Martin, Bentley and Mitsubishi
Khuloud Al Omian, Managing Editor of Forbes Arabia magazine, explained that the assessment of Arab wealth reflects the direction of investments and financial conditions in the Arab world.
Kuwait retained third spot behind Saudi Arabia and the UAE with four billionaires. Lebanon dropped from second to fourth place this year after the exclusion of four of its billionaires (Nazik Hariri, Hind Hariri, Said Khoury and Hasib Sabbagh), retaining only three billionaires in the latest list. Lebanon is followed by Egypt, which also has three billionaires after local magnate Samih Sawiris was excluded from the list.
Al Omian said: “The high number of Arab billionaires indicates a state of relative stability in the Arab economies. The presence of 34 individuals with a net worth of more that USD 100 billion is impressive given the geopolitical and economic volatility experienced throughout the region over the past years. It reflects the possibility of further investments which can help overcome the financial crisis. The 35 per cent decline in Arab wealth is still acceptable in light of the economic downturn. Other countries such as Russia, India and Turkey, fared worse; these three were the most affected in the list due to the crisis, losing around half of their billionaires in just a year.”
Al Omian emphasized the importance of reading more closely through the figures included in the list, explaining that they provide insights on the change in rankings and the composition of personal wealth. She noted that new entries were able to join this year’s group due to the offsetting of reduced wealth of some individuals with the increase of others, as was the case with Saudi Arabia. Data clearly depict the reasons behind the exit or entry of billionaires, the concentration of wealth in certain sectors and in certain countries, and the economic differences of countries.
The current global crisis significantly affects vital sectors such as the petroleum industry, which is a major economic driver. Primarily oil-based economies such as Saudi Arabia and the broader Gulf region have been able to withstand most of the negative effects of the crisis and retain a large part of their wealth. From this standpoint, many analysts expect Arab wealth to surge in the coming years, which will reflect positively on the business and investment conditions across the Arab world and in the Gulf in particular.
Forbes magazine published its 2009 “World’s Billionaires” list in its March issue, which came after the announcement that the global credit crunch had resulted in the exclusion of 332 billionaires from the world ranking since March of 2008. The total number of billionaires went down from 1,125 in 2008 to 793 in 2009.