Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Sales Raise Prospect of Li Ka-Shing Ambitions in Europe

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Sales Raise Prospect of Li Ka-Shing Ambitions in Europe

Article excerpt

A flurry of reported sales of companies and real estate in Asia connected to the businessman Li Ka-shing is being matched by billions of dollars of investment in European assets.

Li Ka-shing, one of the world's richest men, is known in his adopted hometown and business hub of Hong Kong as "Superman," for his financial acumen.

Is Superman taking off from China and headed for Europe?

The intriguing question is swirling as reports pile up of sales, attempted sales or planned sales of companies, buildings and other assets in Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland that are owned by the conglomerates he founded and controls, Hutchison Whampoa and Cheung Kong Holdings.

What is surprising to many is that these sales are being matched by new investments in debt-struck Europe: $18 billion worth over the past three years, according to Week in China, a digital magazine based in Hong Kong and distributed to HSBC clients.

"This year alone Hutchison has agreed or closed five deals worth more than $4 billion -- the majority in infrastructure investments ranging from water-treatment and gas distribution businesses in the United Kingdom to telecommunications assets throughout Europe," Week in China reported in late August.

Last year, Mr. Li explained his rationale for investing in Europe, and it was a rare vote of confidence in the struggling continent.

"We understand the situation in Europe and I believe the businesses will have growth momentum in five years' time," the magazine quoted him as saying.

Will Mr. Li, 85, whose words and deeds are gold to many Chinese, be right here, too? According to Forbes magazine's billionaires list, he is the richest person in Asia and the eighth-richest in the world. He is said to be worth about $30 billion.

Either way, "Li Ka-shing's serial divestments and sales are making people guess," The Beijing News said on Tuesday, reporting that last week his companies had agreed on the sale of a building in Shanghai, the Oriental Financial Center, for 7 billion renminbi, or $1.15 billion.

"This is the third such major asset sale in three months in Hong Kong and China," The Beijing News wrote, adding that the figures were "incomplete."

It cited "industry insiders" as saying that the sales showed Mr. Li was "bearish about the property market in mainland China" amid uncertainty about the scale of a property bubble there, and was "divesting from Hong Kong."

Contacted for comment Tuesday about the recent investment decisions, Jeremy Lau, a spokesperson for Hutchison Whampoa, only pointed to a statement the company issued Friday saying the sale had been agreed for a commercial property it owned at 333 Lujiazui Ring Road in Pudong, Shanghai. The address matches a listing at Savills, the property agency, for the Oriental Financial Center. …

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