BEIJING - The number of China's billionaires fell for the first time in seven years, a group that tracks the country's fortunes said Monday, amid a slump in the property sector and falling stock prices.
China had 251 people worth a billion dollars or more, down a total of 20 from last year, the Hurun Report, a luxury magazine publisher that compiles the list, said in a statement.
The list - released annually - records China's 1,000 richest people. The decline in the number of billionaires came after having grown for six years, the statement said.
Topping this year's list with a fortune of US$12.6 billion (S$15.5 billion) was beverage magnate Zong Qinghou, who reclaimed the top spot he lost last year to Liang Wengen, co-founder of machinery company Sany. Liang fell to 5th this year.
Rupert Hoogewerf, Hurun Report chairman and chief researcher, said in a statement that "some significant wealth bloodletting" could be seen in this year's results.
China's economy, which grew more than 10 per cent a year for the decade through 2010, has entered a significant slowdown amid the broader global slump.
Gross domestic product expanded 9.3 per cent in 2011 and hit a three-year low of 7.6 per cent in the three months through June for the sixth straight quarter of weaker growth.
Weak economic data in the current third quarter, including exports and manufacturing, has led some analysts to expect China will record slower growth for a seventh straight quarter.
The report said China's property sector was no longer the top source of wealth for the country's richest since the survey began in 1999, losing out to manufacturing that accounted for 20.7 per cent of individuals on the list.
China's government has been pursuing policies to rein in the once red-hot sector.
Authorities have been implementing measures for more than two years to curb speculation in the housing market, including bans on buying second homes, raising minimum down-payments and imposing property taxes in certain areas.
Despite the decline in the number of billionaires, the report noted that the figure has still shown tremendous overall growth in a short period of time, citing the 15 China had just six years ago.
The report said that while the average wealth for China's richest 1,000 people fell 9 per cent to US$860 million, it was still nearly double the US$439 million figure recorded in 2008.