Welcome to a new year and to the first issue of Forbes Asia for 2021. As we enter this new year, it’s natural to have fresh hope for change and renewal. Vaccines are rolling out around the globe, raising expectations that the end of the pandemic is in sight. The U.S. has a new, and very different, administration, and it is already causing shifts in the global political scene, including across Asia.
To be sure, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The U.S.-China relationship seems to have undergone a fundamental shift towards what is termed by some as “strategic competition.” Attitudes toward travel and healthcare may also be permanently altered.
The emerging new normal presents some intriguing juxtapositions. The capital markets are buoyant (even frothy), with stock markets hitting new highs, despite a very mixed picture coming from economic data. Investors are betting on future growth from a post-Covid-19 recovery by deploying huge amounts of liquidity now available around the world. Yet others caution that the bills may soon come due and that current valuations are unsustainable.
This picture of a glass half-full and half-empty can be seen in Hong Kong’s 50 Richest list in this issue. Hong Kong is in the midst of a perfect storm of a pandemic, social unrest and collateral damage from a trade war. Unemployment is up and the economy is down. Yet the benchmark Hang Seng index has risen since the 2020 list was calculated (albeit by just 5%). The total net worth of the 50 is also higher, even as a majority—27 listees—saw a drop in their wealth over this period.
One of Hong Kong’s most astute investors, Goodwin Gaw, profiled in this issue, encountered his own dilemma this year. He figured, reasonably enough, that the pandemic would create a buying opportunity to snap up discounted property. Yet he found the opposite, scant supply and few bargains. “When there are no sellers in the market, there is no price correction to speak of,” he says in the profile. Despite that disappointment, Gaw and his family have done so well over the last few years with their public and private investments that they have regained a spot on this year’s list.
Another profile in this issue is of billionaire Ye Guofu from China, and it reveals another paradox. Founder of the retail chain Miniso, Ye succeeded in building a global retail brand based mostly on brick-and-mortar stores around the world, despite the long-term decline in traditional retail, a trend accelerated by the pandemic. He is so passionate about old-school retail that he has earned the nickname in China of kai dian kuang mo, the store-opening maniac.
If this all sounds familiar, that may be because it is. Forbes has long espoused the notion that good entrepreneurs often win by flouting conventional wisdom—taking a risk when others are fearful. The conflicting signals shown in this issue—and happening in the wider global economy—may perhaps indicate a fertile environment for some to grab opportunities and create newfound wealth.
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I am the editor and executive director-content for Forbes Asia, the latest in various Forbes roles in Asia, including postings in Hong Kong, Jakarta and Singapore. Among