20/05/2010 - 00:00

Private wealth elite list loses Stokes, Stowe

20/05/2010 - 00:00


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IT has been a huge year for Western Australians with fortunes in private companies, amid big changes in the top 10 ranking.

Private wealth elite list loses Stokes, Stowe

IT has been a huge year for Western Australians with fortunes in private companies, amid big changes in the top 10 ranking.

The successful move by Kerry Stokes to merge his privately held Westrac business with the listed Seven Network to create Seven Group has effectively removed the magnate from the list of private wealth. Mr Stokes, via his Australian Capital Equity, still has a fortune in unlisted assets but, at the agreed $2 billion price tag, Westrac’s sale means the vast majority of his wealth is on the public register.

It also removed a $1 billion debt from Mr Stokes’ private balance sheet.

A very different set of circumstances has befallen former coal tycoon Rick Stowe, whose energy assets were surprisingly put in the hands of administrators during the Christmas and New Year period.

The reclusive Monaco-based Mr Stowe’s personal fortune had previously been valued at more than $700 million. He had built an empire on his ownership of half of the Collie coalfields, which supply fuel to WA’s domestic power generators.

But big bets on entering the power generation business, coupled with rising costs in mining and hiccups in both operations, placed Mr Stowe’s wealth in jeopardy when the global financial crisis played havoc with his funding arrangements.

The return to boom conditions has helped to boost the estimated wealth of several other Western Australians. Gina Rinehart, heiress to the fortune of Lang Hancock and Australia’s richest woman, has enjoyed the boost in commodity prices, which not only increase the iron ore royalty payments to her company but also improve the likelihood of further iron ore developments driven by her Hancock Prospecting business.

Ms Rinehart’s fortune is estimated to be more than $3 billion, though, like miners in the listed sector, the valuation would be affected by the Commonwealth’s grab for resources profits.

Also eroding her estimated wealth was the loss of nine-year, bitterly contested court case to Wright Prospecting, owned by Angela Bennett and Michael Wright.

In March, the WA Supreme Court ruled that Hancock Prospecting should give up its 25 per cent stake in the important Rhodes Ridges iron ore tenements in the Pilbara, giving a 50 per cent share in the project to Wright Prospecting.

Mrs Bennett and Mr Wright are thought to share a fortune with more than $1.5 billion. Both have their own personal assets. Mr Wright has developed the Voyager Estate winery in Margaret River. Mrs Bennett famously sold her Mosman Park mansion for $57.5 million late last year to Chris Ellison, the head of Mineral Resources.

Others at the top of the private wealth list have strong property connections, though often as the result of success in other entrepreneurial fields. Stan Perron owns half of Central Park and numerous shopping centres as part of his $2 billion fortune built on the back of the Toyota franchise for WA.

Mr Perron’s wealth is one of the most diversified fortunes of this exclusive group.

Not only has he the relatively smooth earnings profile from Toyota, which sells one in every four vehicles in WA, but he has commercial and retail property exposure around the country. These have remained relatively resilient, especially in WA where the GFC had limited impact on consumer spending.

Similarly, Ralph Sarich’s Cape Bouvard property develop-ment business has resulted from the fortune raised as the founder of Orbital Engine Corporation in the 1980s.

While the technology at the heart of Orbital never became commercially successful, Mr Sarich personally did well from the hopes of his invention. Orbital still exists as an engine components developer.

Len Buckeridge’s empire is another property-linked business. While Mr Buckeridge has direct property assets such as CBD buildings, his fortune is largely built on his housing and commercial construction business, BGC, which is the biggest home builder in the country.

BGC is not only a builder but owns much of the material supplies required, including cement factories, brick works and window frame construction.

Mr Buckeridge, a big importer of raw material for his construction supplies business, is also backing the development of a private port at Kwinana’s James Point. That development has been a source of frustration to him, having met resistance from state governments of both hues.

Among the other elite private wealth holders are Coogee Chemicals chief Gordon Martin, Jubilee Mines founder Kerry Harmanis, wine, retail and media entrepreneur Jack Bendat, and the family holdings of former corporate doctor Bill Wyllie.



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