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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Tech entrepreneur makes $11bn just by moving location

Zhou Hongyi moved his online security firm to China and merged it into a shell company, which soared as much as 550 per cent since November

Figures of the Shanghai Composite Index, top, and the SZSE Component Index in the Lujiazui Financial District in Shanghai. Qilai Shen/Bloomberg
Figures of the Shanghai Composite Index, top, and the SZSE Component Index in the Lujiazui Financial District in Shanghai. Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

Why be content with almost $2 billion when your net worth can be multiples more simply by moving your company from one stock exchange to another?

Zhou Hongyi did just that, relocating his online security firm to China and merging it into a shell company, which soared as much as 550 per cent since he announced the plan in November. Qihoo 360 Technology delisted from the New York Stock Exchange in July 2016 and began trading Wednesday in Shanghai as 360 Security Technology. The move boosted Zhou’s net worth to $13.6bn, making him China’s 12th-richest person, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Mr Zhou, 47, said in November that aligning himself with China’s national interest was among the reasons he moved the listing to his homeland, where the Communist Party has been tightening the country’s “cybersecurity sovereignty”.

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The first day back was rocky. The shares swung between gains and losses on Wednesday - opening 3.8 per cent higher before declining 10 per cent as of the close in Shanghai. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index dropped 1 per cent.

Still, China’s richer tech valuations may have been a draw, said Sun Mengqi, an analyst at BOCOM International. “There could be a substantial valuation gap between the US and China.”

Mr Zhou owns a 23 per cent stake in 360 Security, directly and through holding companies Tianjin Qixin Zhicheng Technology and Tianjin Zhongxin Investment, according to an acquisition proposal last month. Yue Jing, a company spokeswoman, declined to comment on Mr Zhou’s net worth.

The firm posted 2016 revenue of 9.9bn yuan (Dh5.87bn), up from 9.4bn yuan a year earlier. Most of its sales come from online ads, many which are pushed to users of its antivirus products.

Zhou isn’t the first tech mogul to take the back door to China. Billionaire Jason Jiang’s Focus Media went private in a $3.7bn buyout in 2013 after coming under pressure from short-seller Carson Block, relisting two years later in Shenzhen. The company’s market value has swelled to $29bn since then.

Zhou did a stint as the head of Yahoo China in the 2000s after selling a search engine startup to the U.S. firm and, in 2006, co-founded Qihoo 360 with fellow billionaire Qi Xiangdong.