Hong Kong tycoon Li 'cautious' as profits rise

Agence France Presse

Posted at Aug 03 2017 09:24 PM

Hong Kong's richest man Li Ka-shing, 88, speaks at a press conference in Hong Kong on March 22, 2017. Anthony Wallace, AFP File Photo

HONG KONG - Tycoon Li Ka-shing's flagship CK Hutchison on Thursday saw profits up seven percent in the first half of 2017, boosted by its European telecoms operations.

The billionaire, who turned 89 on Saturday, said he was "cautiously optimistic" about his company's future, as an upturn in major economies was weighed by geopolitical risks and renewed uncertainty over commodity prices.

Europe's economic recovery helped Li, who announced last week that his conglomerate and its property arm agreed to buy German energy management firm Ista International GmbH for $5.3 billion.

CK Hutchison Holdings continues to count Europe as a significant income source, with its joint Italian telecom venture Wind Tre being a main contributor to its growth for the reported period, the firm said in a statement Thursday.

Net profit for the company rose to HK$15.9 billion ($2 billion) in the first six months of 2017, compared with HK$14.9 million for the same period a year earlier.

But that fell short of the HK$16.2 billion average estimate in a survey of three analysts by Bloomberg.

Li said first half growth was adversely affected by currency changes, especially with the British pound.

Looking ahead, he said China's One Belt, One Road initiative -- a massive network of ports, railways, roads and industrial parks in Asia, Europe and Africa -- would provide new opportunities.

"With its close economic connectivity and geographical proximity to the mainland, as well as its advanced economic development and diversity, Hong Kong is in a unique position to benefit from potential growth opportunities ahead," Li said in a statement.

Li offloaded major property investments in China after investing heavily there in the 1990s, in a move seen as a quest for stability for the tycoon's vast empire and a sign of diminishing confidence in the region.

Analysts called him a maverick at the time, but his moves irked Chinese critics.

His relations with China have since appeared to warm up again, as he dismissed calls for an independent Hong Kong and shared a prolonged handshake with Chinese President Xi Jinping -- a gesture typically seen as symbolic -- when Xi visited Hong Kong last month.

Thursday's statement made no mention of Li's retirement, playing down reports in June that he might step down and hand over his company to his son and deputy chairman Victor Li before he turns 90.