Wed, Apr 03, 2019 - Page 11 News List

In Asia’s stealthy rich city, wealthy hide their Hermes

NOT SHOWY:Taipei has 1,519 ultra-high-net-worth people who have at least US$30 million in assets, Knight Frank said


The Tao Zhu Yin Yuan residential building, bottom left, and the Taipei 101 building, center, are pictured in an aerial photograph taken in Taipei on Saturday last week.

Photo: Bloomberg

To show off a US$50 million Mark Rothko painting that Sotheby’s plans to sell in New York, the auction house took it to Asia to tempt wealthy bidders. Outside of the company’s regional base in Hong Kong, the artwork made only one stop — not Shanghai or Tokyo or Singapore, but Taipei.

“We take the art to where the buyers are,” said Sotheby’s Asia chairwoman Patti Wong (黃林詩韻), who hosted a two-day preview attended by Maggie and Richard Tsai (蔡明興) and Yageo Corp chairman Pierre Chen (陳泰銘). “The Taiwanese market is hugely important for us.”

China might be minting billionaires faster than anywhere else, but Taiwan has been building fortunes since the 1950s. According to Knight Frank’s 2019 Wealth Report, Taipei was eighth in a global list of cities ranked by the number of ultra-high-net-worth individuals, with 1,519 people who have at least US$30 million in assets. The property firm predicts that the number will rise to 1,864 by 2023.

Wealth creation in the nation of 23.6 million people took off in the 1970s with the proliferation of hundreds of small manufacturers cranking out everything from televisions to Barbie dolls that fueled export-led growth. By the 1980s, Taiwan had moved up the value chain, making electronic components and goods, led by computer companies and chipmakers such as Acer Inc (宏碁) and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (台積電).

When China began opening to investment, many Taiwanese companies shifted production across the Taiwan Strait to ride China’s industrial boom. New Taipei City-based Hon Hai Precision Industry Co (鴻海精密) made founder Terry Gou (郭台銘) a fortune worth US$4.3 billion as of Monday.

Money that flowed back to Taiwan created some startling symbols of wealth. When the Taipei 101 tower opened in 2004, it was the world’s tallest building, eclipsed only in 2010 by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, and housed Christian Dior’s largest flagship store in the world.

However, a good chunk of the money earned by Taiwan’s entrepreneurs stayed abroad. According to a UBS Group AG report, Taiwanese hold US$500 billion offshore, third behind China, with US$1.4 trillion and the US with US$700 billion.

Taiwanese are also fond of real estate. According to Knight Frank, Taiwan’s super-wealthy own an average of 5.4 homes each, compared with a little more than four homes for Hong Kongers and 4.6 for those in the Middle East.

In downtown Taipei, apartments in Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut’s twisted, carbon-eating residential tower, Tao Zhu Yin Yuan, reportedly sell for NT$1 billion (US$32.42 million) apiece, making them among the priciest in the region.

Much of the wealth in Taiwan belongs to founders who never took their companies public and some of them are now looking to cash out. Precision Motion Industries Inc (銀泰科技), a supplier to the semiconductor industry whose shareholders include Pai Young-yao (白永耀), is seeking a buyer in a deal that would value the company at US$1 billion, according to people familiar with matter.

“Over 90 percent of our clients are entrepreneurs with unlisted companies,” said Dennis Chen, head of wealth management Taiwan at UBS, which has seen annual double-digit percentage growth over the past five years.

Unlike the stereotype of the new wealth portrayed in the film Crazy Rich Asians, most wealthy Taiwanese families eschew ostentatious displays of riches.

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