Hutchison Whampoa

Lai See

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 February, 2007, 12:00am


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Conspiracy theorists feed on HTIL plunge after hutchison essar sale

Go figure.

A day after Li Ka-shing's Hutchison Telecommunications International Ltd sells its stake in Indian mobile operator Hutchison Essar to Vodafone for HK$86.5 billion, shares of HTIL fell harder than Humpty Dumpty, ending 15 per cent lower at HK$16.28.

It seems like rough justice for a company that will come out of the deal with net cash per share of at least HK$12.90. But, as usual, there is a conspiracy theory.

A few of the analysts we spoke to yesterday said some people fear that group flagship Hutchison Whampoa will inject all or part of its dud 3G assets into Hutchison Telecom to extract the maximum cash from the Essar deal.

They said it was worth remembering that from day one, Hutchison Telecom had been intended as a vehicle to facilitate intra-group deals. It was HTIL, after all, that privatised Hutchison Global Communications in 2005 at a sharp discount to the price of its initial placement less than two years before, leaving some minority shareholders feeling burned.

Hutchison Whampoa has denied having any plans to inject assets into HTIL. The sceptics say that may be true now, but things could change.

And although Hutchison has hinted at the possibility of a special dividend, the company had seldom made special distributions. It did not do so even when it made a profit of HK$117.3 billion on the sale of Orange to Mannesmann in 1999.

More comings and goings at Two IFC

When in the vicinity of Two International Finance Centre be careful not to be run over by a removals van.

Original tenants who signed cheap leases in 2003 during the Sars crisis are departing and being replaced just as quickly by banks that are not fazed by the new reality of HK$150 per square foot rents.

We wrote last week about how the Financial Times was looking around for new accommodations, fearing it could no longer afford to be cheek-by-jowl with its journalists' sources. Now we learn that Titan Petrochemicals Group, a transport and storage company, has already retreated to Wan Chai and the 49th floor of Sun Hung Kai Centre.

For Titan, life on the 67th floor of Two IFC certainly was sweet while it lasted. Its 30-member staff were able to loll about in 5,500 square feet with a harbour view. And the accountants could hardly object to a three-year contract at as little as HK$20 per square foot when a six-month rent-free period was factored in.

'We can see IFC from here,' a Titan employee said from the new office, with just a hint of longing in his voice.

'But we won't miss the security,' he hastened to add, referring to the elaborate entry and exit procedures common to buildings that are home to a lot of banks.

Is it a boom, or just a bloom?

Anyone in search of anecdotal evidence about the health of the local economy would do well to keep an eye on flower deliveries. Valentine's Day is a good day for florists even when the economy isn't firing on all cylinders, so offices with a lot of young women on the staff should be bracing for an avalanche of blooms today.

Even the cash-strapped Lotharios in the newsroom are getting in on the act. One told us the price of a dozen roses for his beloved would be almost HK$1,100, double the usual amount.

We're told that multi-coloured roses are all the rage in Europe this year, while for Americans, as always, only red will do. Which way will Hong Kong lean?

Garish art spells a cool HK$20m gain

In case you were in need of more proof that Hang Fung Gold is more interested in gold than art, here is the latest from Hong Kong's most ostentatious company.

A year after selling a gold statue of shepherd-turned-monk Wong Tai Sin, the company has unloaded another chunk of its artistic portfolio, a golden wagon. The folks who brought us the Hung Hom golden toilet said they made a cool HK$20 million profit on the sale of the golden wagon for HK$70 million.

Reminiscences on the old Lisboa

Thanks to reader Andrew Liang, who responded to our query about the architectural thinking behind the original Lisboa hotel and casino, which opened in 1970. 'The first Lisboa was supposed to resemble a bird cage,' he writes. 'Once inside, those poor little gambler 'birdies' are trapped.'