Now Hong Kong becomes the place to put a few assets in the trolley
With potential buyers looking over some prominent businesses in the city, truly local ventures may end up as rare as a 'Made in Hong Kong' T-shirt
Hong Kong has long been known as a shopping paradise, in particular among fashion-conscious women. But lately it's more than just fashion that is on offer, as a growing number of billion-dollar family businesses have been put up for sale.
For some bankers, the asset sales have not come as a big surprise. Last year, when I talked to David Chin, the head of Asia investment banking business at UBS, he had already flagged the deals.
"In 10 years, Hong Kong will see first-generation [business] leaders or founders exit. The privatisation trend will apply to hundreds of privately held listed companies in this city," Chin said in an interview in November.
He's right. First, Hong Kong's richest man Li Ka-shing decided to put one of the city's most popular supermarket chains, ParknShop, up for sale.
And shortly after Li decided to sell ParknShop, the South China Morning Post learned from sources that another famous local retail chain in the city, Quality HealthCare, had been put up for sale by its family owners, Malvinder Mohan Singh and his brother Shivinder Mohan Singh, two of India's richest men.
The chain of clinics has been the first choice for many white-collar workers in the city seeking medical services.
Since then Chong Hing Bank, founded in 1948 and now one of only four major family-controlled banks in the city, has confirmed that it had been approached about a possible takeover. Yue Xiu, an investment arm of the government in Guangdong province, is believed to be the bidder.
When asked by the Post if Wing Hang Bank, another family-controlled bank in Hong Kong, could be up for sale, a spokeswoman for the bank said it would be "open-minded" about approaches.
All these ongoing deals sound like great opportunities to global investors. Indeed, private equity funds such as TPG and Carlyle, two of the biggest funds in the United States, have shown strong interest in the acquisition of Quality HealthCare; and global retail industry giant Walmart and China Resources Enterprise, the emerging retail industry leader coming from the north, have reportedly bid for ParknShop.
In 2010, China Resources bought Hong Kong's famous home-grown coffee chain Pacific Coffee, the top competitor of Starbucks in the city.
When I asked my local friends how they felt about these asset sales, one asked me a question instead: "Hong Kong always says it is a financial centre but sooner or later the financial centre may not even have its own bank. Hang Seng Bank, once locally owned but long since taken over by HSBC, is a case in point.
"Now the question is, which will be next and when will it happen"?
I guess that's it. Shall we call it a result of globalisation or a sign of failing confidence in Hong Kong's business outlook among the city's old-generation business leaders? It may be just like the great history of the garment industry in Hong Kong. Life is like a circle. So is business. How easy is it to find a "Made in Hong Kong" T-shirt in the street these days?
George Chen is the Post's financial services editor. Mr. Shangkong appears every Monday in the print version of the SCMP. Like it? Visit facebook.com/mrshangkong