One-off gain boosts Hutchison profits
Hutchison Whampoa yesterday reported record half-year profits driven mainly by a big one-off gain from the listing of its port assets in Singapore.
The ports-to-telecommunications conglomerate posted a 632 per cent increase in net profits to HK$46.3 billion for the first six months of this year thanks to the listing, but another lucrative spin-off is not likely, according to chairman Li Ka-shing. The listing of Hutchison Port Holdings Trust generated a gain of HK$44.3 billion and a write-off on port assets of HK$7.1 billion.
Excluding the one-off gain and charges, net profit was up 44 per cent to HK$9.12 billion for the first six months of this year compared to the same period last year.
Li ruled out an initial public offering of the conglomerate's retail division or a secondary listing of Husky Energy, which is based in Canada, saying the two operations did not require additional funding. The Hong Kong tycoon also declined to comment on reports that Hutchison planned to sell its Italian mobile phone operator Telecom Italia. Li said the group would be seeking opportunities to invest in overseas assets but would take a conservative approach due to uncertainty about the global economy.
'We haven't got a lot of gearing. We will continue to look out [for projects]. I am reserved. I don't want risk,' he said.
Li's other companies have been snapping up foreign assets in recent years. Hutchison's listed subsidiary Cheung Kong Infrastructure this week announced it would buy Northumbrian Water, a drinking water and sewage treatment utility in England and Wales, for GBP2.41 billion. Last year, CKI bought the UK power-grid assets of France's EDF for GBP5.8 billion.
Analysts said that despite a turnaround at its previously loss-making third-generation mobile-phone business, Hutchison's revenue growth would still be driven by energy utility Husky Energy - known for its dominant position in heavy-oil production and processing in Canada and for its Husky and Mohawk petrol filling stations there - and its retail and property divisions. Net earnings for Husky Energy grew 137 per cent to C$1.3 billion (HK$10.5 billion) for the first half of this year compared with the same period in 2010.
Ebit (earnings before interest and taxes) rose 25 per cent to HK$3.56 billion at the retail division and at the property and hotel arm they grew 25 per cent to HK$4.3 billion, excluding property revaluation gains.
'The earnings from 3 Group were better than expected,' said Kenny Tang Sing-hing, a general manager at AMTD Financial Planning. 'The worst is over.'
The telecommunication division, 3 Group, reported ebit of HK$767 million during the first half compared with a loss before interest and taxes of HK$998 million over the same period last year. Its 3G customer base rose 3 per cent to more than 30.2 million.
Hutchison Whampoa managing director Canning Fok Kin-ning admitted there were still 'hitches' in 3 Group in Ireland and Australia that needed to be sorted out. The telecoms operator lost HK$156.5 billion between 2002 and August last year from its controversial foray into 3G mobile phones before turning a profit this year.
'One step at a time,' said Fok, when asked of his expectations for the operation. He said he aimed to stabilise the division. 'What do I think? Look at me, I am smiling,' he quipped.