According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, the 50-year-old Ma, with a net worth of $28.6 billion, surpassed Li Ka-shing, the Hong Kong property and ports tycoon, who has held the top spot in the region since April 5, 2012, Bloomberg reported.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, with a net worth of $85.4 billion tops the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
India’s Mukesh Ambani, the chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), who has a net worth of $21.8 billion, is the highest ranking Indian on the Bloomberg list at number 32.
Ma, a former English teacher who started the Hangzhou, China-based Alibaba in his apartment in 1999, has added $25 billion to his fortune this year, riding a 54 percent surge in the company’s shares since its September initial public offering (IPO).
Li Ka-shing, on his part, congratulated his rival Ma. “I am nothing but happy when young people from China do well,” Li was quoted by his spokesperson as saying.
A spokesman for Alibaba, however, declined to comment on Ma’s net worth.
“The billionaires in China are growing their wealth faster because China’s economy is still developing, with plenty of room for growth,” said Francis Ying, an analyst at Yuanta Research, adding, “Hong Kong is already a mature market.”
Alibaba’s $259-billion market capitalisation makes it larger than Amazon and eBay combined, and more valuable than all but eight companies in Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.
More than half of Ma’s wealth comes from his 6.3 percent stake in Alibaba, valued at $16.3 billion. He is also the owner of Alipay, an online payment service similar to PayPal.
Alibaba raised a record $25 billion in its Sep 18 IPO, selling shares for $68 each.
“If you look at the whole Chinese internet space, it’s definitely getting very significant,” said Tony Chu, a money manager for RS Investment. Alibaba has become “a global stock which you cannot ignore”, he said.
Ma, who became China’s richest person in August, told CNBC in an interview that being the wealthiest person in the world’s second largest economy “is a great pain”.
“I never thought I’d be and I don’t want to be,” he said.