Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Li Ka-Shing 李嘉誠




























Fondly known as Superman to Hong Kong investors.   Or nickname Li Ka-Ching!!



















Often referred to as “Superman” in Hong Kong because of his business prowess, Li Ka-shing is the richest businessman in Asia, and chairs conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa and Cheung Kong Holdings, a property group. Li turned Cheung Kong Industries into a top property group, and Cheung Kong expanded to acquire Hutchison Whampoa in 1979 and Hongkong Electric in 1985. Li is a noted philanthropist and heads a charitable foundation that is a shareholder in Facebook.   --  FINANCE ASIA article


And Other Global Players are 'joining'

A well poised role as dealmaker with experienced team and multi-industries specialty as a global multi-national operating in > 50 countries.

Hong Kong's richest billionaire 

Its a well known rags-to-riches story about Asia's richest billionaire but one should note especially the reach of his team of global professionals, their skill at deal-making and the quality of their business partners, not to mention their speed at effecting transactions, start-ups, or bond offerings.   
We note with some experience having operated seamlessly globally for over 20 years with this unique global team spanning 52 countries with over 250,000 employees.  Mr. Li, the richest man in Asia is ahead by $5 billion USD despite the Subprime global financial crisis according to Forbes magazine.    
The 80 year-old has a history of overcoming adversity to succeed.   Mr. Li closed an unprofitable U.K. mobile phone operator called Rabbit in 1993. He returned a year later to start Orange Plc, which he sold in 1999  to Mannesman at a $15 billion profit.  







Telecoms




Largest Real Estate Company in the World

With this deal, 170 million sq ft of Landbank in China, 17 million sq ft of rental properties and 14,600 hotel rooms - world's largest public real-estate.co



















The Re-organization | Simplified & Easier to Manage | Largest public real estate co 


Graphic from Economist

Astute money managers and operators in a league of their own - they play global monopoly  and have a seamless established global team operating how many countries?      >>
Check corporate website

Dealmakers | Global 

Not just telco, in Britain alone Li Ka-Shing controls the pharmacy chain Superdrug, UK Power Networks, Britain's largest container port in Felixstowe   >> MORE 



Infrastructure including Utilities


Transport







 Tech & Resource 

Li Ka-Shing


Status: Angel Investor
Age: 83
Residence: Hong Kong


Facebook stake: .8%
Value: $680 million

Can you hear the cash register go "Ka-Ching?" Considered to be the richest man in the world of East Asian descent, Li Ka-shing bought a 0.8% stake in Facebook for $120 million in two separate rounds. The investments were made in 2007 at a $15 billion valuation, similar to Microsoft's $240 million deal made earlier that year. Ka-shing began his career at the age of 15 by working at a plastics trading company where he reportedly worked 16 hours a day. In 1950, he started his own company, Cheung Kong Industries, and went from manufacturing plastics to real estate investment. Estimated to be worth $16.2 billion, Ka-shing is considered the 16th richest man in the world.
- See more at: http://whoownsfacebook.com/#sthash.CNKyLB54.dpuf


















Background 

 A property flagship led by Asia's richest tycoon Li Ka-shing said on Wednesday it plans to buy up to 60 passenger jets in a series of transactions that amount to more than US$2.5 billion.

The Hong Kong businessman made his first major foray into the aviation industry in August by announcing plans to buy into Irish aircraft leasing group AWAS, and the new purchases expand his investments into a field that can yield stable and long-term cash flow, analysts have said.

A filing written by Cheung Kong Holdings for the southern Chinese city's Stock Exchange late Tuesday said that the plan was to buy the Boeing and Airbus aircraft from GE Capital Aviation Services Ltd, BOC Aviation Pte, Jackson Square Aviation, LLC, and MC Aviation Partners Inc.

The company confirmed Wednesday that the total number of jets was around 60. 

The deals are worth a total of more than US$2.52 billion, Dow Jones Newswire reported.

Mr Li is reaching out to the sector as premium airlines cut costs amid fierce competition from a growing number of budget carriers in Asia.

Last year, China lifted a six-year ban on creating private airlines, helping fuel demand for aircraft.

The deals also include acquisitions worth US$800 million made through a joint venture formed with a subsidiary of Japanese Mitsubishi Corp, Dow Jones reported.

Mr Li commands a vast empire through Cheung Kong Holdings and conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa, with global assets in property, telecoms, utilities, ports and retail.

In August, the property flagship announced plans to purchase Dublin-based AWAS in a US$5 billion deal that involve 100 aircraft.
AFP

Dealmakers 

Past Press Coverage: 









PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 11, 2014
Li Ka-shing sets new course for US$200b aircraft leasing market
Asia's richest man, Li Ka-shing, aims to buy his way into the global aircraft leasing business as his flagship investment firm holds talks with lessors on building a portfolio of planes, people with direct knowledge of the matter said - 
[SINGAPORE] Asia's richest man, Li Ka-shing, aims to buy his way into the global aircraft leasing business as his flagship investment firm holds talks with lessors on building a portfolio of planes, people with direct knowledge of the matter said.
In a potential series of deals, the Hong Kong tycoon's Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd is in discussions to form a joint venture with Mitsubishi Corp's MC Aviation Partners leasing arm, one executive said. Li's firm is already bidding for a US$5 billion fleet of 100 planes that lessor AWAS Aviation Capital Ltd has put up for sale.
The move by Li, who runs a global business spanning everything from property to energy, is part of a strategy to recraft the group's investments outside Hong Kong, targeting stable returns in a fast-growing industry. As global air travel booms, carriers are opting to lease new planes rather than buying them, saving on huge capital outlays upfront. "They (Cheung Kong) have their fingers in a lot of pies at the same time," said one executive, who declined to be identified as the information is not public. "They have huge ambitions and are looking to become a top global lessor." Mitsubishi Corp and MC Aviation declined to comment. Cheung Kong didn't respond to requests for comment from Reuters.
Analysts say Li will be looking to take full advantage of his group's financial muscle to make a success of the new strategy. However, as interest in the aircraft leasing sector grows, that approach may push target valuations higher. "Obviously, buying a large fleet would sort of indicate that they are trying to get big overnight. But I'm not really sure this is the best time to get into the market," said Ilya Ivashkov, a New York-based senior director at Fitch Ratings. "It seems like things are definitely getting a little bit overheated, especially in some pockets of the market," he said.

Watsons | Retail

  • We brought Mission Hills Wine from Canada to Watson's Wine Cellar in Asia thru the Park n Shop Operations




PUBLISHED MARCH 22, 2014

Temasek pays US$5.7b for quarter of Watson


FRESH on the heels of making a cash offer for Olam International, Singapore's Temasek Holdings has now inked a deal to take up a substantial stake in Li Ka-shing's AS Watson, the world's largest international health and beauty retailer - PHOTO: SPH
Singapore
Fresh on the heels of making a cash offer for Olam International, Singapore's Temasek Holdings has now inked a deal to take up a substantial stake in Li Ka-shing's AS Watson, the world's largest international health and beauty retailer.
While some have suggested that the move puts paid to the Hong Kong tycoon's plans to publicly list AS Watson, Temasek has confirmed that a public offering of AS Watson shares - including its own newly acquired stake - is still on the cards.
Temasek said in a statement yesterday that it will be paying US$5.7 billion in cash for a 24.95 per cent stake in AS Watson, perhaps best known for its Watsons drugstores all over Asia, including Singapore.
Hutchison Whampoa, Mr Li's telecommunications and retail flagship and also AS Watson's parent, will hold on to the remaining 75.05 per cent.
Temasek said the move will "increase its exposure to the consumer retail sector, with a balanced focus on a growing Asia and a recovering Europe".
Its purchase price for the quarter stake comes in just under the valuation put on AS Watson by analysts recently. Based on Hutchison's most recent set of results out in February, analysts have valued AS Watson at between US$22.3 billion (Nomura) and US$34.4 billion (Morgan Stanley).
Taking the average of valuations done by 11 analysts yields a figure of US$26.8 billion - which equates to a value of US$6.6 billion for a 24.95 per cent stake, or about US$1 billion more than what Temasek is paying. Hutchison's group managing director Canning Fok also said recently that, based on the group's own collation of data, the average valuation estimate for AS Watson from analysts is HK$195 billion (US$25.1 billion), which would translate to US$6.26 billion for a 24.95 per cent stake.
These valuations exclude AS Watson's Marionnaud business - the largest perfumeries & cosmetics retailer in Europe; Hutchison had indicated Marionnaud would be excluded from any share sale of AS Watson, as it is undergoing a refurbishment programme.
When asked, Temasek confirmed that its purchase of a 24.95 per cent stake in AS Watson excludes the Marionnaud business. It does, however, include AS Watson's other well-known brands, such as Hong Kong's top supermarket brand ParknShop, its top electronics retailer Fortress, and one of the United Kingdom's leading health & beauty retailers, Superdrug.
AS Watson has more than 10,500 stores, operating 14 retail brands, in 25 markets around the world. Its Watsons brand alone operates over 4,000 stores and more than 900 pharmacies in nine Asian markets.
It explains why AS Watson's anticipated public listing was expected to be the world's largest since AIA Group's US$20.4 billion offering in 2010. Rumours were floated as early as October last year that Hutchison was considering selling shares in AS Watson, in an initial public offering (IPO) worth some HK$98 billion.
Just a few weeks ago, Mr Li himself said Hutchison hoped to spin off AS Watson for a listing in Hong Kong and an overseas market this year, after reporting better-than-expected earnings for last year.
The Financial Times, quoting two people familiar with the deal, reported yesterday that Temasek's acquisition of the quarter stake in AS Watson "scuppers . . . plans by Asian tycoon Li Ka-shing to list his AS Watson health and beauty chain". One of its sources said Hutchison roped in Temasek as a strategic investor as it was feeling "jittery about an IPO".
However, when asked by The Business Times if this deal would affect AS Watson's listing plans, Temasek said: "Hutchison and Temasek have agreed to work together towards listing AS Watson at a suitable time."
It is believed that there is still scope for a dual listing, with the second market likely being Singapore, given Temasek's interest.
Hutchison's announcement to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange yesterday also confirmed that such listing plans are still on the cards. It also said that the "strategic alliance" with Temasek would maximise the value of AS Watson.
"The transaction will allow the group to partially unlock the value of its AS Watson group of businesses and set an important valuation benchmark for the group's remaining interests," it said.
Temasek's head of Investment Group, Chia Song Hwee, said Temasek shares AS Watson's "philosophy to invest and build businesses for the long term, especially in Asia".
"AS Watson is a well-established company with a proven management team, a valuable franchise and a good growth story. The consumer retail sector is a good proxy to growing middle income populations and transforming economies. This is very much part of our investment themes as we shape Temasek's portfolio for the long term," he said.
In the consumer retail space, Temasek has a 3 per cent stake - valued at HK$89 million as at March 31, 2013 - in Li & Fung, Hong Kong's multinational consumer goods group.
"We continue to believe in the growth opportunities and long-term prospects of Asia, particularly China, and a recovering Europe," Mr Chia added.
AS Watson's audited net assets value attributable to its shareholders was HK$9.2 billion, as at Dec 29, 2013, according to Hutchison's filing. Its audited net profit after tax and extraordinary items for FY2012 and FY2013 were HK$6.9 billion and HK$7.8 billion, respectively.

PUBLISHED MARCH 19, 2014

Li's Watson to raise up to US$6b in IPO: report

[HONG KONG] Asia's richest man Li Ka-shing is planning to raise up to US$6 billion through a dual listing of his flagship retail chain in Hong Kong and London, a report said yesterday, in what would be the world's biggest initial public offering since late 2012.
Mr Li is aiming to sell shares in AS Watson - part of his vast Hutchison Whampoa conglomerate - by the end of June, the Wall Street Journal reported, quoting a person familiar with the situation.
Mr Li, 85, said in February that Watson will be listed in two places with one of them definitely being the Chinese financial hub. "No matter what, Watson will definitely list in two locations, with Hong Kong being one of them," the Journal reported Mr Li as saying at the time.
Yesterday's report said HSBC, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America were involved with preparations for the IPOs, adding that it plans to submit a listing application to the Hong Kong stock exchange as early as this week. The firm was not immediately available for comment.

HK Electric Trust - first large IPO in 2014 - raised $3.1 bln

The $4 billion to $5 billion deal is scheduled to launch on January 14 and is expected to be followed by a number of other large listings in the first half

HK Electric Investments looks set to become Asia’s first large initial public offering in 2014 after bankers started investor education on Monday for a deal that could raise as much as $5.7 billion.

The business trust-like entity, known in Hong Kong as a fixed single investment trust, is a spin-off from Li Ka-shing-controlled Power Assets Holdings, which is one of the two power producers in Hong Kong. The company said last month that it is aiming for a separate listing of its Hong Kong electricity business by January 29. Power Assets’ shareholders formally approved the spin-off on Monday, clearing the final hurdle for the IPO to hit the market.

According to Power Assets’ mid-December announcement, the plan is to sell between 50.1% and 70% of the trust and the market capitalisation is expected to be between HK$48 billion and HK$63.4 billion ($6.2 billion to $8.2 billion). The shareholders’ approval obtained yesterday is contingent on the market cap being at least HK$48 billion. (For further details on the deal structure, please see our story published on December 17).
Sources say the IPO, which is arranged by Goldman Sachs and HSBC, will be done on an accelerated timetable with the management roadshow and bookbuilding due to start on January 14. This will allow the parent company to stick to its original plan for a listing on January 29 – just two days before the Hong Kong market closes for a four-day weekend to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

The fact that this major holiday falls quite early this year is likely to limit the number of Hong Kong IPOs hitting the market in January. The time left before the upcoming break is not long enough for a full marketing schedule and most issuers are reluctant to have their offerings straddle the Lunar New Year – particularly since the Chinese markets will be closed for a full week (January 31 to February 6).

The market is full of chatter about other big deals in the pipeline, however, and even though the secondary markets have been quite weak since the start of the year – the Hang Seng Index is down 2.7% after the first three trading sessions – bankers and other market watchers are optimistic that 2014 will be a stronger year for new Hong Kong listings than 2013.

According to its annual forecast issued last week, auditing and professional services firm PwC projects that the amount raised through IPOs in Hong Kong will increase to more than HK$250 billion this year from HK$169 billion in 2013 and HK$89.8 billion in 2012.
To be sure, there is greater visibility on multi-billion dollar deals right now than there was this time last year, with several of the biggest transactions expected to happen in the first half.

Depending on how big a portion of the trust will be sold to public investors, HK Electric could raise between $3.1 billion and $5.7 billion from the listing – market sources say a deal between $4 billion and $5 billion is most likely – which would exceed the $3.0 billion raised by China Everbright Bank in December.

The Beijing-based bank that is already listed in Shanghai was the largest Hong Kong listing in 2013, although due to a rich valuation and lack of differentiation versus other Hong Kong-listed Chinese banks it was mostly sold to China-based investors.

And HK Electric is by no means the largest deal in the pipeline. Investors are particularly excited about Shuanghui International, a Chinese pork producer rumoured to be looking for an IPO of between $5 billion and $6 billion, and A S Watson Group, the consumer retail entity owned by Hutchison Whampoa (also controlled by Li Ka-shing), which is expected to be even bigger.

Shuanghui bought US-based Smithfield Foods in September last year for $4.7 billion – the largest ever Chinese takeover of a listed US company – and is ready to recoup some of that money through an IPO that could value the Chinese firm at about $20 billion. BOC International, Citic Securities, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Standard Chartered and UBS are said to be working on the deal, which appears to be timed for early in the second quarter.

The IPO of Watson comes after Hutchison attempted to sell its ParknShop supermarket chain through an M&A transaction in October last year. That deal fell apart after the main bidder dropped out and the seller failed to achieve its desired valuation.

A separate listing of the entire Watson unit, which includes ParknShop as well as several other retail chains in 30 markets around the world, should result in significantly more cash for the parent company, however, and will allow it to restructure the debt held by the unit. It will also give investors a much wider exposure to the consumer retail sector.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs, which also handled the aborted ParknShop sale, are working on the Watson IPO together with HSBC. The review of the retail unit has been going on for a while and the deal could hit the market in the next six months, sources say.

And then there is Citi-backed China Guangfa Bank, which has been preparing for a listing for several years and was earlier looking to raise as much as $5 billion from a concurrent IPO in Hong Kong and Shanghai. According to sources, it is finally getting ready and the fact that China has re-opened its IPO market this month after a regulatory ban on new listings that lasted for more than a year may make it possible for Guangfa to pursue its dual-listing plan.

However, as demonstrated by the IPOs of China Everbright Bank last month and Bank of Chongqing and China Huishang Bank in October and November, Chinese banks are facing a tough challenge convincing international investors to support their deals given that there are already more than 10 mainland banks listed in Hong Kong. And the job is made even harder since their offering prices are subject to regulatory limits.

But Chinese lenders do need to strengthen their capital reserves and since they seem okay with having most of their shares being placed with Chinese investors, there are likely to be more deals coming on the back of the three listings in the fourth quarter last year.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Harbin Bank is planning to file an application this month for a Hong Kong IPO of about $1 billion and said the deal could come as early as the second quarter. Three Chinese banks, ABC International, BOC International and CICC are mandated for the deal, according to the same report.  --  2014 January Finance Asia  

Power Assets said Monday that 99.7% of its shareholders voted for the spin-off of the Hong Kong electricity business, including its immediate parent company, Cheung Kong Infrastructure.



Telecom - Growth in Europe Mobile 


Hong Kong’s Hutchison Whampoa reports that its 3 Group division’s registered 3G/4G mobile customer base across six European countries increased by 13% during 2013 to over 26.6 million, of which it said 83% were ‘active users’. 3 Group reported a 6% increase in annual revenue to HKD61.976 billion (USD7.986 billion), whileEBITDA and EBIT grew by 38% and 54% to HKD12.671 billion and HKD4.856 billion respectively. 3 Group – which operates in the UK, Italy, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden and Austria – reported the milestone of positive EBITDA-less-CAPEX for the year. The positive performance was attributed to strength in the smartphone and mobile data segments, an increased contribution from 3 Austria upon the completion of the acquisition of Orange Austria in January 2013, and ‘a well-disciplined operating and capital expenditure profile.’ In June 2013 3 Ireland entered into an agreement with Telefonica to acquire rival cellco O2 Ireland for EUR780 million (USD1.1 billion) with an additional deferred payment of EUR70 million payable dependent upon achievement of agreed financial targets. The completion of this transaction, which is subject to regulatory approval, is expected in the second quarter of 2014.

Another Hutchison Whampoa division, Hutchison Asia Telecommunications (HAT), with mobile operations in Indonesia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka, reported a 41% rise in total revenue to HKD6.295 billion in FY2013, whileEBITDA climbed by 94% to HKD819 million from HKD423 million in 2012. Although posting an operating loss (LBIT) of HKD409 million for 2013, this was a 52% improvement from HAT’s reported LBIT of HKD846 million the year before. HAT’s flagship subsidiary, 3 Indonesia, increased its ‘active’ subscriber base by 40% in a year to over 32 million at 31 December 2013, driving revenue growth of 50%, while becoming EBITDA-positive in the second half. The HAT group claimed an active customer base of approximately 43.5 million across its three countries at the end of the period under review.    - 2014 Feb 28   TELEGEOGRAPHY

After son Richard's acquistion of Telstra's stake, industry experts estimate that Li family will control more than 50 per cent of the mobile market and conservatively more than 60 per cent of fixed-line phone services

Cement Plant in Guangdong
Cheung Kong Infrastructure (1038) said its HK$1.3 billion cement factory in Guangdong is now in full operation and it will invest a further HK$600 million in the venture.

The new flagship cement plant, located in Yunfu city with a total area of 283 hectares, has a clinker capacity of 4,500 tonnes per day and sometimes 5,000 tonnes.

The project started in March 2010 and was completed in two years.

The firm received approval to build a pier with a coastal area of 24 hectares that can handle three barges at a time.

CKI chairman Victor Li Tzar-kuoi said the cement production would help satisfy the demand in Guangdong and the Pearl River Delta.


He said parent Cheung Kong Holdings (0001) and its affiliates are seeking opportunities overseas and in the mainland.

CKI also owns another cement plant in Yunfu with clinker capacity of 2,500 tonnes daily, as well as the mining rights to a limestone quarry nearby.

Meanwhile, shares of Power Assets Holdings (0006), in which CKI holds a 39 percent stake, hit an intraday high of HK$60.25 yesterday following the proposed spin-off of its Hong Kong electricity business before closing at HK$59.65, up 1.2 percent.

The spin-off of Hong Kong Electric - the sole power provider for Hong Kong Island and Lamma Island - will have an estimated market capitalization of up to HK$63.4 billion.   --  2017 Dec 17    THE STANDARD




HISTORY


PUBLISHED OCTOBER 24, 2013
Watsons IPO expected to fund Li's China expansion
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[HONG KONG] Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing is expected to use proceeds from what could be the world's biggest retail sector initial public offering (IPO) to expand his health and beauty business in China - a market forecast to grow by around 40 per cent to US$186 billion by 2015.
In the process, Mr Li would aim that firepower against foreign rivals such as Mannings, controlled by Jardine Matheson Group's Dairy Farm International Holdings Ltd; Alliance Boots, 45 per cent owned by Walgreen Co, the biggest US drugstore chain; and Vivo, part of China Resources Enterprise Ltd.
Billionaire Mr Li's conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa Ltd last week scrapped the sale of ParknShop, its Hong Kong supermarket chain, and said it that would carry out a strategic review of AS Watson Co Ltd, its retail arm, which includes ParknShop, the Watsons, Superdrug and Kruidvat personal care stores, Fortress electronic appliance outlets, and chains selling food and wine and luxury and cosmetic products.
That review may include an IPO of all or parts of the business, it said, without elaborating.




Li Ka-shing, the Hong Kong magnate whose outsize footprint extends into industries as disparate as ports, retail, plastics, and telecommunications, has announced that he intends to sell significant pieces of real estate in Shanghai and Guangzhou, worth billions of dollars. The move is part of Li’s plans to invest vast sums in Europe, and also comes as political relationships in both China and Hong Kong that have served him well for years appear to attenuate. 

One of the primary sales is the 35-story Oriental Financial Center, a commercial building in Shanghai’s central business district that is still under construction. The building is near the Shanghai World Financial Center and the Jin Mao Tower, both iconic buildings in the city.


Another building that Li intends to sell is the Metropolitan Plaza, a large, partly open-air shopping complex that styles itself as “leisure-tainment,” located on the metro line in Guangzhou, a commercial hub in China’s south. It features an outdoor cinema, and a 936,460 square foot basement shopping area.


The news of Li’s intended sales was reported by 21st Century Business Herald, a major Chinese business publication, and other Chinese financial media. The Herald put the total value of the assets at nearly US$5 billion. 


The news of the sales comes soon after Li made public plans to offload the Hong Kong supermarket chain ParknShop, which has 237 stores in the city. Hutchison Whampoa Limited, Li Ka-shing’s company that owns the supermarket chain, is said to be considering a US$3-4 billion bid from China Resources Enterprise, a subsidiary of a Chinese state-owned behemoth whose Chairman, Song Lin, has recently been caught in a corruption scandal involving coal mines in Shanxi Province. 


Li Ka-shing is the richest man in Asia and the 16th richest in the world, with a personal fortune valued at $27.1 billion, according to Bloomberg. His flagship Cheung Kong Group, which consists of 22 publicly listed firms, has a market value of nearly US$110 billion. He is currently in the midst of handing the reins of the empire to his eldest son, Victor Li. Li’s move to pull money out of China may be connected to relationships with major Chinese communist political figures that appear to have broken down, or which have found diminished utility, over the last few years. When Li began doing business in China in the late 1980s, one of his well-known phrases was “Do things, and don’t talk politics.”  
 >> MORE
 


When Li Ka-shing talks, all of Hong Kong listens
Li Ka-shing's nickname is 'Superman' and when the tycoon talks, Hong Kong listens - no matter what the topic. Mr Li's conglomerates, ports-to-telecoms group Hutchison Whampoa and property giant Cheung Kong (Holdings), released full-year earnings at a packed news conference Thursday. The event produced a barrage of media coverage that cast Mr Li as an all-encompassing man of finance, celebrity, power and wisdom.

Mr Li is one of the richest men in Asia and widely viewed as the most influential figure in Hong Kong. The community pays enormous attention to his every pronouncement, and his earnings news conferences are reliable platforms for him to hold court on questions of all types.

Anybody reading through the answers gets an entertaining dose of gossip, an update on some of the biggest players in Hong Kong's stock market and a reasonable forecast of the Chinese territory's near-term economic and political future.

Hutchison remains weighted down by heavy losses in third-generation telephone operations and investors apparently want to see things looking better before making more bets on Mr Li's flagship.

Hong Kong headline writers are far less reluctant to make the most of everything Mr Li says. The mass-circulation Apple Daily splashed Mr Li's picture on Friday's front page, hand cupped over his mouth as if he were shouting. A banner headline proclaimed that the billionaire widower, now in his late 70s, purportedly won't rule out getting remarried. The Chinese-language newspaper ran a smaller headline on the same page that quoted a female confidante as calling Li a 'gentleman'.

Taking a more serious tone, the English-language South China Morning Post noted on its front that Mr Li had given his total support to Hong Kong's leader, Chief Executive Donald Tsang, for a second term that would begin in 2007.

'I totally support the chief executive,' Mr Li said. 'He is whole-hearted and dedicated, a fair and capable person. His performance is very good.'

Mr Li owns so much in Hong Kong - with holdings in real estate, ports, electricity, supermarkets, drugstores and retail electronics - that locals often say the only thing you can do without making him richer is to breathe. An endorsement from Mr Li is about as good as it can get for a Hong Kong politician.

Questioning at Mr Li's news conference at times seemed intended to seek guidance for all of Hong Kong. Mr Li said he is 'reasonably optimistic' about Hong Kong's economy - as well as his ability to sell thousands of apartments this year. He expects salaries to go up in Hong Kong, and weighed in on concerns about the territory being marginalised by saying: 'We should all work harder and get on the right path.'

Forbes magazine recently listed Mr Li as No 10 worldwide with a fortune of US$18.8 billion. But he said he spends less on his clothing than he used to because he no longer needs to 'dress up handsomely'.

Mr Li outlined millions he has spent on charities and said: 'Saving, when it is too much, becomes a numbers game.'

Journalists hung on to every word, hoping for any tidbit about his global business dealings, and pushing their zeal to new levels. In the past, rumours about Li's health have briefly shaken the Hong Kong stock market. Mr Li was asked on Thursday whether he planned to retire and said no, proclaiming himself in fine health. One financial news service flashed this headline after the press conference: 'Li: I woke up at 6am this morning to play golf.' - 2006 March 27   AP     


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