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CK Hutchison profit climbs steadily in post-Li Ka-shing era

Hong Kong group remains on risk diversification track under son's watch

Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, right, listens to his son Victor Li at a news conference in March 2018.   © Reuters

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong conglomerate CK Group delivered steady earnings growth last year under Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, who took over as chairman after the retirement last May of his father, the charismatic leader Li Ka-shing.

Core unit CK Hutchison Holdings, whose operations include telecommunications and infrastructure, reported on March 21 an 11% rise in net profit last year to 39 billion Hong Kong dollars ($5 billion).

Another key unit, CK Asset Holdings, in the real estate business, reported 33% profit growth. The group posted steady results in key operations, including port management, retail and energy.

Nothing has changed in group strategy after Li Ka-shing's departure, Victor Li told reporters, highlighting the importance of quality of earnings amid macroeconomic conditions.

The group will not depend on a particular country or a business area, he said. The elder Li -- Hong Kong's richest man -- pushed earnings diversification through such steps as unloading Chinese and Hong Kong real estate that drove the group's growth, and by investing in infrastructure projects in Canada and Australia.

The son has bought an office building in the U.K. and turned an Italian telecom unit into a wholly owned subsidiary. The group has obtained spectrum bands for the 5G ultrafast data service in five countries, including Britain, Italy and Australia.

The group's bid to acquire Australia's largest gas pipeline company, APA, was denied by authorities and plans to purchase a Canadian oil sands company were abandoned as well.

Victor Li says he has not perceived discrimination in the group's pursuit of international acquisitions. But with CK Group often considered a Chinese company, there is concern over its influence in areas that could affect national interests, including telecom and energy.

Li stressed that CK Group is an international company based in Hong Kong. Gauging an appropriate distance from China is likely to be a challenge as the group further globalizes operations.

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