When tycoon Li Ka-shing speaks, rightly or wrongly, Hong Kong people tend to listen.
The annual general meeting of CK Hutchison and CK Property yesterday turned into a birthday party-like occasion attended by hundreds of shareholders.
Much like a Hong Kong version of how Warren Buffett charmed his followers at Berkshire Hathaway last week, the richest man in town fielded questions on everything from his sprawling businesses to his personal views on politics and everything in-between. The main difference was that where Buffett hosted a seven-hour Q&A session, Li took questions during two 10-minute sessions, treating acolytes to a nice dim sum buffet in-between.
The 88-year-old chairman was greeted with blessings from a shareholder who wished him good health after he was absent last year due to stomach flu. In response, Li held up his palm in gratitude, winning applause from his mostly elderly shareholders.
In recent years, Li, nicknamed “superman” for his shrewd “buy low, sell high” investments in global telecoms, container terminal, property and infrastructure businesses, has been criticized for diverting substantial capital outside Hong Kong while reducing exposure in real estate in mainland China, and in the container terminal and retail sectors on his home turf, Hong Kong.
Li said he will increase, not reduce, his stakes in his companies and vowed to continue doing business in Hong Kong, where he has been living for 77 years and plans to remain. His statement won a long round of applause from the floor.
Hong Kong is expensive, though. It has seen an influx of mainland developers rushing to grab land, forcing prices up and sidelining local developers such as CK property, the city’s No 2 landlord.
Li was keen to point out that his group also wanted to buy more land – but not at such premiums.
“We put shareholder interests first when we do business,” said Mr Li. “We do not start business for hobbies; especially in today’s Hong Kong, it will be a mistake if you do not branch out from property.”
He reiterated that his business is not confined to property, or Hong Kong, and that he saw more investment returns from sectors other than real estate.
Li has an admirable track record. Every dollar invested in Cheung Kong Holdings back in 1972 is now worth 4,670.
Every dollar invested in Buffett’s Hathaway in 1965 is now worth 13,000. But unlike Buffett, Li has a successor in place – his eldest son Victor, who joined the group in 1985 and is now deputy chairman and managing director.