Hong Kong tycoon Li's firms say profits nearly doubled in 2014

HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing's two main companies on Thursday said earnings nearly doubled in 2014 to their highest point this century, in their last results ahead of a revamp of his vast business empire.

Hutchison Whampoa, which controls assets ranging from ports to telecommunications, said net profit more than doubled to HK$67.16 billion (S$11.7 billion) up from HK$31.11 billion in 2013.

Revenue rose 2 per cent to HK$421.47 billion.

Property developer Cheung Kong's net profit for the 12 months ending December 31 rose to HK$53.87 billion, a 53 per cent jump from HK$35.26 billion the year before.

The profits were the highest the two companies had seen in 15 years, Bloomberg News reported, and comes ahead of an overhaul of Li's vast business empire that will separate out his property firms from other global assets.

The firms said the results were helped by the listing of Li's electricity business Power Assets in January of last year.

"2014 was a year of significant activity and solid financial performance for the Group," the Hutchison filing said.

In January, Li announced plans to buy UK phone giant O2 for up to US$15.4 billion (S$20.8 billion).

In Thursday's filing, Hutchison warned that "some of our businesses encountered increasing headwinds in the second half of 2014 with increased currency volatility, slow property market in mainland China".

China's house prices slumped in 2014, rising for the first time in nine months in January after a losing streak that has weighed on growth in the world's second-largest economy.

Octogenarian Li, who is nicknamed "Superman" for his sharp business acumen, has been selling assets in China and Hong Kong and making multi-billion dollar purchases in Europe, fuelling speculation that he was losing confidence in the region.

Li had previously dismissed talk of a withdrawal from the region as "a big joke" last year, and echoed that view at a press conference Thursday.

"I started investing in foreign countries 30 years ago," he told reporters.

Under the reshuffle of Li's empire announced last month, Cheung Kong will change its name to CK Hutchison Holdings, while all property-related business will be controlled by CK Property, a new company that will be listed.

Hutchison Whampoa, which has been trading on the city's bourse since 1978 and controls his telecoms, utilities, ports and retail assets, will be delisted.

Li said the overhaul was to secure stability in future, and it is also largely seen as paving the way for the 86-year-old to hand over the reins to his eldest son Victor after he retires.

When asked Thursday when he will retire, Li said: "I have not decided, I only want the entire organisation to embark on another phase, then I'll think about it."

Li started his first business in 1950 manufacturing plastic flowers.

He lost the title of the richest man in Asia in December after holding it since 2012 to Chinese entrepreneur Jack Ma, founder of recently listed e-commerce giant Alibaba.

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