There were some illuminating exchanges with Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest at the Fortescue Metals Group AGM in Perth yesterday, but the shortest answer he gave related to James Packer.

Twiggy attended the big Packer wedding earlier this year and the two have personally toured Fortescue’s Pilbara operations, so why didn’t Australia’s richest man write out a cheque and get on board the iron ore juggernaut?

“Look, he’s a mate and he’s a great Australian – end of story,” Twiggy told the meeting.

With Fortescue shares soaring $7.19 to $51.70 this morning, James must be regretting not participating in his mate’s recent $504 million placement at $36 a pop.

Indeed, the 46-year-old mining entrepreneur has today achieved something few would have thought possible when the value of his Fortescue stake soared passed James Packer’s stake in PBL to become the most valuable individual holding in any Australian company.

Given the plunging US dollar, even overtaking Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp stake is not out of the question because this is how the top 10 looks after today’s record surge in the Fortescue share price on the back of yesterday’s AGM and the BHP-Rio merger play:

News Corp: Rupert Murdoch, $8.87 billion

Fortescue Metals Group: Andrew Forrest, $5.3 billion

PBL: James Packer, $5.1 billion

Westfield: Frank Lowy, $3.38 billion

Harvey Norman: Gerry Harvey, $2.29 billion

Reece: Wilson family, $2.21 billion

Platinum Asset Management: Kerr Neilsen, $1.6 billion

Worley Parsons: John Grill, $1.57 billion

Transpacific Industries: Terry Peabody, $1.28 billion

Seven Network: Kerry Stokes, $1.27 billion

Forrest had his mum, step mum and wife Nicola at yesterday’s meeting but the Fortescue shareholding is largely debt free and completely his, unlike Rupert’s stake in News Corp which carries plenty of debt, is the subject of divorce settlements, dividend entitlements to his mother and a $US600 million distribution of non-voting stock to his six children earlier this year.

Whilst James Packer might have surrendered Australia’s most valuable individual shareholding, his various other investments are going quite well so he could yet overtake the Murdoch family wealth, especially if the US dollar continues to tumble.

James was in a particularly cranky mood yesterday when my proxy at the Seek AGM, anti-pokies campaigner Gabi Byrne, asked whether it felt better making money out of the job ads business than from problem gamblers at casinos.

He even refused to shake Gabi’s hand after the meeting. By way of contrast, Twiggy couldn’t have been friendlier, so maybe he could suggest a more chivalrous approach to his mate for the PBL AGM at Crown on 23 November.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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