2009 was a year of recovery for the World’s Billionaires as a whole reports Forbes (for whom I have been freelancing). The wealthiest in Eastern Europe, Russia and the CIS states improved their fortunes as commodities markets recovered and world stock markets rose.
Poland, a success story among transition economies, but which had only 1 billionaire on the list last year, Zygmunt Solorz-Zak, is back with 4 billionaires. In addition to Solorz-Zak, Jan Kulczyk, Leszek Czarnecki and Michal Solowow return to the Forbes billionaires list. Kulczyk, who was last on the Forbes list in 2006, is strengthened by his energy holdings.
Dinu Patriciu, Romania’s richest billionaire, is also making a big push in energy, going after licenses to explore for oil and metals in the Black Sea; in January he even got patent for a method of mining and processing seabed sediment.
Despite the fact Romania’s GDP contracted an estimated 7% in 2009 and its hopes to introduce the euro by 2014 may be thwarted by collapsing euro-economies like Greece, the country saw the return of former tennis ace, Ion Tiriac, to the Forbes billionaires list and added one new billionaire, Ioan Niculae, who has interests in agriculture.
Indeed it was a good year for agriculture – the world’s rising population needs to be fed. Andrej Babis joined the Forbes list as a new billionaire from the Czech Republic; his Agrofert agricultural holding company keeps growing and may be looking at European expansion plans. Along the same theme, two new Russian billionaires, Andrei Guriev, and Anatoly Lomakin, made their fortune in fertilizers; and fellow Russians Pyotr Kondrashev and Vyacheslav Kantor return to the billionaires list based on their interests in the fertilizer business.
Russia is a solid success success story with dozens of returnee billionaires after so many of its billionaires saw the brink of bankruptcy last year. Only one similar story can be found in Ukraine: Kostyantin Zhevago returns to the list after a margin call forced him to sell shares of his Ferrexpo below market last year. Otherwise Ukraine is not as merry. A contentious election factionalized billionaires; the way forward under new President, Viktor Yanukovich, is unclear. Rinat Akhmetov, part of Yanukovich’s Party of Regions, is once again the richest man in Ukraine.
Meanwhile in Kazakhstan, the supportive policies of President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s dynasty, helped daughter Dinana Kulibaeva and son-in-law Timur Kulibaev back on the billionaires list; their Halyk Bank got a boost from government coffers post last year’s financial bust. Nurzhan Subkhanberdin of Kazkommertzbank (also helped by the government) returns to the list as well. Another returnee: Vladimir Kim, whose copper producer Kazakhmys is up fivefold over the past year. It all starts and end with commodities (the Kazak trio’s, ENRC is doing particularly well with ventures in Africa heating up).