Li Ka-shing upbeat on China's outlook

HONG KONG • Hong Kong's richest man said China's economic outlook is bright in the long term, casting a vote of confidence in a country that's growing at its slowest pace in a quarter century.

China continues to have a trade surplus, the services industry is generating income and foreign money is flowing in, Mr Li Ka-shing told Bloomberg Television's Angie Lau in his first interview with international media since 2012.

He also indicated that investors focusing on the country's rising debt levels are missing out on the larger picture. "The long-term outlook for the mainland is good," the 87-year-old CK Hutchison chairman said from his Cheung Kong Centre office. "People only see the debt in the state-owned enterprises and in households, when they need to recognise that China is a big exporter."

Mr Li's confidence in the world's second-largest economy comes amid signs of stabilisation, thanks to government stimulus measures. Yet sceptics abound, with the International Monetary Fund this month citing rapidly rising credit and excess industrial capacity among risks threatening the nation's medium-term prospects.

China's total borrowings surged to 247 per cent of economic output last year from 164 per cent in 2008.

 According to economist Tom Orlik for Bloomberg Intelligence, it has accumulated debt faster than any Group of 20 nation over the past decade.

Mr Li has much at stake in the mainland. His real-estate unit, Cheung Kong Property, counts about half its revenue from there and has dozens of huge properties in the country. His flagship company, CK Hutchison, generated 14 per cent of its earnings before interest and taxes from China, where he operates some 2,500 Watsons and ParknShop stores.

Consumption has remained a prop for China's slowing economy. Gross domestic product expanded 6.9 per cent last year, the weakest pace since 1990, and is forecast by economists to increase by 6.5 per cent this year.

Mr Li, who spoke on Thursday, has a fortune of US$28.6 billion (S$38 billion), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

In the interview, he stepped up his calls for Britons to vote in favour of staying in the European Union as the world braces itself for the outcome this week. He said: "If Brexit happens, it will be detrimental to the United Kingdom and will have a negative impact on the whole of Europe." 

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2016, with the headline 'Li Ka-shing upbeat on China's outlook'. Print Edition | Subscribe