Tycoon Li sells utilities stake to Qatar

Updated: 2015-06-10 07:41

By Felix Gao in Hong Kong(HK Edition)

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Billionaire Li Ka-shing is continuing his overseas expansion and diversification campaign with the sale of a HK$7.6-billion stake in his utilities group to Qatar's sovereign wealth fund.

The Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) acquired the interest from Hong Kong Electric Investments Ltd (HKEI) through Power Assets Holdings Ltd.

QIA also acquired a 3.37-percent stake in HKEI from Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings, another company controlled by Li, taking its holding in HKEI to 19.9 percent.

Following the sale of the 16.5-percent stake, Power Assets' holding in HKEI fell to 33.37 percent, but remains as the single largest shareholder of the power supplier, the company said on Tuesday.

The proceeds will enable the company to continue to pursue new acquisitions in the global energy industry, whilst maintaining a strong financial profile, Power Assets said.

"As we said at the time of HKEI's initial public offering exercise, our intent has always been to maintain our stake in HKEI at between 30 percent and 49.9 percent. Placement of this 16.5-percent stake is both consistent with that intent and allows us the opportunity to work closely with an important new strategic partner," said Canning Fok Kin-ning, chairman of Power Assets.

Power Assets spun off HKEI as a separate Hong Kong-listed trust company to raise HK$24.1 billion last year.

Fok said QIA's significant investment in HKEI reflects a strong vote of confidence in the company and in Hong Kong itself as an attractive, safe and trustworthy polity in which to invest significant long-term capital.

Qatar has sought opportunities in Hong Kong with investments in department-store operator Lifestyle International Holdings Ltd and mainland commercial bank Agricultural Bank of China Ltd through the lender's Hong Kong-listed shares.

"Hong Kong's electricity market is basically a zero-growth market, as the government has a profit control," said Dickie Wong, executive director of research at Kingston Financial Group.

"It's reasonable for Power Assets to sell HKEI shares and use the proceeds to invest in assets with higher return rates," he added.

The government has considered proposals to cut the rates of return allowed for utility companies from 10 percent per year to 6-8 percent from 2019.

Wong reckoned that Li is not optimistic with prospects of the electricity-generation industry, but it's exaggerating to say that he is divesting from Hong Kong.

Li has been reorganizing his business empire, merging two of his main Hong Kong-listed companies, which own everything from ports to pharmacies, and spinning off his property assets earlier this year. Last year, he sold nearly a quarter of his AS Watson Group to Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings Private Ltd for $5.7 billion.

HKEI is the monopoly electricity supplier for Hong Kong Island and supplies power to some 568,000 customers in the city.


Tycoon Li sells utilities stake to Qatar

(HK Edition 06/10/2015 page10)