The AFR’s Chanticleer columnist John Durie has been getting stuck into Australian fund managers recently for missing the Fortescue Metals boat. Shares in the wannabe iron ore miner are up another 23c to $23.88 this morning, capitalising the company at a staggering $6.3 billion. The stock first broke through $1 in October 2004.

To put this in perspective, here is a list of the five most valuable individual or family holdings in ASX listed companies:

News Corp, Murdoch Family: $11 billion

PBL, Packer Family: $4.9 billion

Westfield, Lowy Family: $3.44 billion

Fortescue, Andrew Forrest: $2.45 billion

Aristocrat, Ainsworth Family: $2.3 billion

Twiggy is only 44 years old and he first got involved with Fortescue just four short years ago. The other four empires on that list all started out more than 44 years ago. Forget the dotcom boom, never before has so much been made, on paper at least, by one person in such a short space of time.

Twiggy’s got plenty of deliriously happy fellow travelers. Herb Elliott may have been paid sod all when he won Olympic Gold for Australia, but the Fortescue chairman’s 800,000 shares are today worth $19.1 million.

Similarly, operations chief Graeme Rowley might have been looking forward to retirement a few years back but the 66-year-old Rio Tinto veteran is enjoying a stellar final corporate innings given his 2.15 million Fortescue shares are worth $51.334 million.

No wonder his team are soldiering on at a relentless pace despite the two recent deaths at the Fortescue rail camp caused by Cyclone George.

Fund managers who’ve missed the Fortescue ride are facing some serious under-performance. Peter Morgan’s 452 Capital knows about this sort of thing. He sold his entire 5% stake in Zinifex in the second half of 2004 when the shares were trading at about $2. Those 25.27 million shares fetched about $50 million when they are today worth $421 million, so this decision alone explains 452 Capital’s under-performance over the past three years.

Bizarrely, Fortescue didn’t produce a top 20 shareholder list in its latest annual report but there are very few Australian fund managers on board for the ride. US group Leucadia National agreed to buy 26.4 million shares for $US300 million last November and these are already worth $US510 million.

Still, there are some critics who won’t believe the Fortescue story until Twiggy actually launches his first iron-ore shipment to China. For now, he’s either the greatest stock booster in history or a genuine visionary.

Peter Fray

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