Li Ka-shing is a man who absolutely has no need to brag about his wealth, being known to all and sundry as Asia’s richest individual.
But the Hong Kong billionaire apparently has just had enough of the media inaccuracies about his net worth. In a post-results briefing for Cheung Kong Holdings Ltd. (00001.HK) and Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. (00013.HK), his first meeting with the press in about a year, Li revealed that foreign magazines have underestimated his personal wealth by at least 40 percent over the past 10 years.
“I don’t care too much about the title for Hong Kong’s richest people… Actually foreign magazines underestimated half of my net worth during the last decade,” Li said. “I own the largest stake in Husky Energy, which is even more than the stake holdings by Hutchison Whampoa,” he said.
Li said apart from Hutchison’s investment, he holds stakes in Husky through his own fund. The fund is 100 percent capitalized by him and takes up one-third of his net worth.
He also said one-third of his fortune is in Li Ka Shing Foundation, his charity fund which has so far donated HK$14.5 billion (US$1.86 billion) for various causes.
He said foreign magazines tend to ignore his wealth in this fund. “I did not respond to the foreign magazines’ wrong estimations… I prefer them to underestimate my fortune,” Li said.
On Jan. 17 Bloomberg News reported that Lui Che-woo, founder of casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd. (00027.HK), has replaced Li as Asia’s richest person, citing its own billionaire index. However, the wire agency ran a correction in the evening, saying that Li remains on top of the region’s rich list.
Li skipped a scheduled meeting with media following his company’s annual general meeting and interim results last year, fueling speculation that he has turned over much of the management of his enterprises to his eldest son Victor Li, who is known to be media shy. The tycoon later said he begged off from the press conference because of a problem with his vocal cords.
Besides Husky, one of Canada’s largest integrated energy companies, Li also has personal investment in social media giant Facebook Inc. and just recently in California-based egg substitute startup Hampton Creek Foods Inc.
He is very optimistic about his investments in technology firms, citing the case of Facebook, which he said is beneficial to Hutchison’s telecommunication business.
Li also said he has invested in about seven to eight projects in Israel. He said Israel has about the same size of population as Hong Kong, but has made more achievements than the Asian city in innovative technology.
Li’s plan to spin off some of his Hong Kong-based assets has raised speculation that he is exiting the local market. Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. (00013.HK) plans to spin off its retail arm A.S. Watson & Co. to raise about HK$34 billion, the Hong Kong Economic Times reported on Jan. 2, citing market sources.
“Watson’s will be dually listed as the market capitalization is very large, and Hong Kong would definitely be one of the listing venues,” Li said. “I wish it could be done this year.”
He said he would want to invest further in Hong Kong if there is any chance, but at the moment, it is very important for the city to increase its competitiveness. “Hong Kong’s economic growth is one-third less than that of Singapore, compared with a similar growth in the two economies back in 1997,” he said.
Press freedom and the legal system are the core values that Hong Kong needs to uphold, and any violence should not be tolerated in the city, he said, reacting to the brutal attack on former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau. He said he feels sad about the incident.
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