Property developer faces default after missing coupon payments Image Credit: Reuters

Beijing: Asia's once-richest woman has lost more wealth than any other billionaire in the world in just over two years as her Chinese property development company falls deeper into a debt crisis.

Yang Huiyan, chair of Country Garden Holdings Co., has seen her fortune slump by 84 per cent since its peak in June 2021, including a drop of 8.2 per cent on Tuesday alone, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Country Garden missed coupon payments due on Monday, putting the real estate developer on course for its first public default if it doesn't make the payments within a 30-day grace period.

Yang's fortune has shrunk by $28.6 billion from its peak, leaving her with a net worth of $5.5 billion. That's the biggest dollar decline among the ultra-rich tracked by Bloomberg's wealth index over that period.

The 41-year-old tycoon's wealth is mainly derived from her stake in Country Garden, whose shares have dropped almost 60 per cent this year as tumbling home sales and soaring refinancing costs hit China's real estate industry. The Foshan-based business that trades publicly in Hong Kong had revenue of 430 billion yuan ($60 billion) in fiscal 2022.

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Even her loss of wealth is dwarfed by that of another Chinese property billionaire, China Evergrande Group's Hui Ka Yan. Hui has seen his fortune dwindle to $3.2 billion from a peak of $42 billion in 2017 as his real estate firm defaulted.

Yang Huiyan
Yang Huiyan Image Credit: X (Twitter)

China's property tycoons have seen their wealth eroded after the government cracked down on excessive borrowing in the industry in 2020, making it hard for developers to refinance swelling debts. The ensuing cash crunch triggered record offshore defaults, wiped out billions of dollars of investments, and delayed construction of thousands of homes. Prior to the collapse, rapid expansion of the residential property sector made Yang, Hui and their peers some of the wealthiest people in the nation.

Yang agreed last month to transfer more than half her personal stake, worth about $826 million, to a charity founded by her sister. She'll retain the voting rights.

Yang's father co-founded Country Garden in 1992 and transferred a controlling stake to her in 2005 after she joined the company as his personal assistant to learn the ropes and eventually succeed him.

She became China's richest woman at age 25, after Country Garden raised $1.65 billion in a Hong Kong initial public offering in April 2007. In 2023, she took over as the sole chair after her father resigned, citing his age.