Billionaire Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong’s richest man, pledged to keep his investments in the city and urged support for the next chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, after backing the candidate he defeated in an election.
“I definitely won’t” withdraw investments from Hong Kong, the 83-year-old told reporters after his companies announced earnings yesterday. “I’ve been in Hong Kong since 1940. I have a special feeling for this place and I love my country and Hong Kong, and I have a strong sense of identity as a Chinese.”
Li, who helms Hong Kong’s second-biggest developer by market value and has business interests that span retail, ports and mobile phones, in 1998 said he scrapped a planned HK$10 billion ($1.3 billion) project because of the bad “political environment” in the city. Two years later, he said he would consider reducing investment in the former British colony if “the media and politicians” work together against him.
A 1,193-member panel made up of mostly billionaires, businessmen, lawmakers and academics on March 25 picked former government adviser Leung to be the city’s next chief executive over Henry Tang following a campaign marred by scandals and protests in a city with a widening wealth gap. Li said the day of the election he had voted for Tang.
“I hope everyone will support the government,” Li said yesterday. “The government is not just about one person.”
Li, 14th on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index with a net worth of $24.7 billion, has been nicknamed “superman” by the local media for his investing prowess. The former refugee from China forecast in 2007 that China’s stock-market bubble would burst and in 2009 predicted the rally in Hong Kong home prices.
The Shanghai Composite Index (SHCOMP) lost 65 percent in 2008, the most among the world’s 10 biggest stock markets. Hong Kong’s housing prices rose more than 70 percent between the start of 2009 and mid-2011.
Li said he was in good health and had no plans to retire. “I exercise every day, eat well, sleep well.”
In the long term, there still hasn’t been a complete solution reached in Europe, while the U.S. economy has been slowly recovering, he said.
The 7.5 percent economic growth target for China this year was “very good for a country so big,” Li said. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has set the nation’s lowest annual growth goal in eight years.
Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd. (1), the developer controlled by Li, said yesterday 2011 net income rose 72 percent, beating analysts’ estimates, after it sold more properties in the city and other parts of China, and contributions from unit Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. (13) increased.
Hutchison, Li’s biggest company, said 2011 profit more than doubled from a year earlier to HK$56 billion after boosting earnings from U.K. utilities, Canadian oil production and cosmetics stores in China.
Shares of Cheung Kong, the world’s third-largest developer by market value, rose 1.1 percent to HK$103.40 at the close in Hong Kong, before earnings were announced. The stock has risen 12 percent this year and is the second-worst performer in the seven-member Hang Seng Property Index (HSP), which has gained 15 percent.
Li, who opened a plastic flower factory after World War II, began investing in Hong Kong real estate in 1967 after riots from China’s Cultural Revolution depressed prices to build Cheung Kong into a company with a market value of $31 billion.
“Hong Kong has its core value in freedom,” he said yesterday in the televised press conference that follows his companies’ earnings announcements. “It has democracy and the basic law. Premier Wen said again a few days ago that he will have one country, two systems.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Kelvin Wong in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org
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