How a bottled-water founder became the richest man in China (for a moment)


It’s hard to deny the stock market’s love affair with technology companies—the sector has come to dominate over the past decade and even more so in the pandemic, with Apple’s now $2.1 trillion valuation pushing it above oil giant Saudi Aramco’s $1.9 trillion.

But here’s a break from that narrative: Nongfu Springs, China’s top bottled-water distributor, jumped as much as 85% in its first day trading on the Hong Kong stock exchange on Tuesday, catapulting founder Zhong Shanshan briefly into the position of China’s richest man.

Yes, China, where tech giants such as Alibaba and Tencent nest. At one point in the stock’s debut, Zhong commanded a net worth of about $59 billion thanks to his 84% stake in the bottled water company, putting his wealth briefly above that of Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Tencent founder Pony Ma, who are valued at $57 billion and $52 billion respectively.

Investors’ bullishness on the company comes in part because Chinese consumers lack access to safe drinking water, with about 80% of groundwater declared unsafe for consumption by the government in 2016, per my Hong Kong-based colleague Grady McGregor.

While Nongfu’s stock has since cooled slightly and shaved Zhong’s net worth down to $51 billion, it’s a reminder that despite all the tech, in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, at least, you still need to eat (or hydrate).

BOUGIE INVESTING: Here’s a fun one. Despite fears of doom and gloom, the stock market has remained (perhaps alarmingly) resilient to the point of overvaluation. Now investors are looking for yield in non-traditional places, including, apparently, in shares of bankrupt companies (ahem Hertz) and in luxury goods and collectibles formerly possible only for the ultra-wealthy. 

  The US will reportedly sell Taiwan $7 billion worth of mines, cruise missiles, and drones, amid concerns about China's growing military presence

Of course, Main Street investors, for the most part, can’t afford to throw down millions of dollars for a race horse, classic car, or art piece. So fintech startups that sell fractional stakes in those assets have surged during the pandemic. Masterworks, which sells stakes in artwork for as low as $20, has apparently added 10,000 users a month during the pandemic, its founder told Bloomberg. .

BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS FROM 40 UNDER 40: Fortune polled its 40 Under 40 in Finance list for their book recommendations. Here is the selection.

JOIN US: The pandemic has rewritten how employees work. Fortune is hosting a virtual discussion with experts across industries (Intel, Slack, Citi, Universal Pictures) to explore how leaders can keep their organizations motivated in a time of intense change. Register here for free to join on September 16 at 2:00-3:00 p.m. EDT.

Lucinda Shen
Twitter: @shenlucinda

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Source:: Fortune


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