China’s richest woman divorces husband, loses fortune

Longfor Properties chairwoman Wu Yajun is no longer China’s richest woman after divorcing Cai Kui and transferring about 40 per cent of the developer’s shares the couple used to own to her ex-husband.

Her stake in Longfor, which Wu co-founded with Cai, dropped from a combined 72 per cent to 43 per cent, while Cai retains 29 per cent, according to filings from Hong Kong’s stock exchange.

Wu’s net worth is estimated at $4.2 billion, down from $7.3 billion as of 5:30 pm New York time on Monday, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Yang Huiyan, an executive director of Country Garden Holdings and the daughter of company founder Yang Guoqiang, becomes China’s richest woman with a fortune of $5 billion, the index shows. The country’s richest individual is Zong Qinghou, chairman of Hangzhou Wahaha Group, who at $19 billion is ranked No. 35 globally.

“We expect the change won’t affect Longfor’s daily operations or the chairwoman’s control,” said Wendy Luo, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Barclays in a research note today, who has an ‘overweight’ rating on the stock.

Longfor’s shares dropped 4.2 per cent — the most in two months — in Hong Kong. The divorce was filed on August 6, according to the Barclays report, citing Longfor management.

Hong Kong billionaire Peter Woo, chairman of property developers Wheelock and Wharf (Holdings), became the third-largest shareholder of Longfor after raising his stake to 5 per cent in September.

Wu, a native of China’s largest municipality Chongqing, was born in 1964. In 1988, almost a decade after China’s former leader Deng Xiaoping opened up the country for economic reforms, Wu quit her “iron rice bowl” job and started working for an industry newspaper affiliated with the ministry of construction. She spent six years as a journalist covering real estate.

After encountering a flurry of problems buying her first apartment – an 861-sq-ft flat in Chongqing – Wu decided to build better homes in China, and co-founded the predecessor of Longfor Properties in 1994 with her husband.

Longfor sold its first residential project in 1997, for $157 per sqm, more than double the average household income in China at the time. Since then, Wu has expanded Longfor into 13 other Chinese cities and moved its headquarters to Beijing. The company raised $1 billion in a 2009 initial public offering in Hong Kong.

The share split between the co-founders won’t violate debt covenants, said a Longfor spokesman based in Beijing who couldn’t be identified according to company policy.

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