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Mukesh Ambani passes Li Ka-shing as Asia's second richest man

Reliance Industries share price rises nearly 50% since Jio launch last year

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India's Mukesh Ambani has overtaken Hong Kong's Li Ka-shing as Asia second richest man after China's Jack Ma.   © Reuters

MUMBAI -- Mukesh Ambani, the chairman and main shareholder of Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries, has overtaken Hong Kong's Li Ka-shing as Asia's second richest man in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, riding investor confidence in Reliance Jio Infocomm, his telecom venture.

For a few days in April and again on July 7, Ambani had a net worth of $34.8 billion, according to Bloomberg. He ranks 19 in the global index, up from 29 at the end of 2016.

Chairman of CK Hutchison Holdings, Ka-shing's net worth was $33.5 billion on Aug. 1 based on his retail and real estate empires. In June, Ka-shing was the second richest person in Asia and 18th richest in the world, according to Forbes magazine.

Ambani has seen a 48% jump this year in the market cap of Reliance Industries, the parent of Jio. Reliance Industries share prices ended 0.64% down on the Bombay Stock Exchange today at 1,603.66 rupees.

The main businesses of Reliance Industries are petrochemicals and refining. It launched its telecom venture in September after seven years' groundwork. It plans to invest 2 trillion rupees (31.2 billion) pioneering a 4G network in India. Investors have backed Reliance Industries, especially after Jio began charging for data services in February.

"I have described Jio as a jewel among the many assets of Reliance," Ambani told shareholders. "Its business and societal value will grow immensely over the next decade. Jio will become India's largest provider of data service, products and application platforms."

Bloomberg notes that the new telecom venture has soaked up $31 billion in investment so far without generating profits: "It has contributed to a near tripling of the group's total debt since March 2012."

S&P Global Ratings has described Jio's aggression and the tariff war it kicked off as having "all the ingredients" of Hunger Games.

Jio's entry last year further stressed the telecom sector which had already seen a decade-long struggle for market share. With heavy discounting, it has corralled 10% of subscribers. According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority, it won 117 million subscribers in nine months.

S&P Global Ratings notes that such discounts cannot last indefinitely. "We expect Jio to rationalize its competitive strategy at some point over the next 12-18 months and start focusing on achieving sustainable revenue and margins," said Ashutosh Sharma, an S&P credit analyst.

China's Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, remains Asia's richest man.

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