Wheelock's proposal to privatise retailing arm Lane Crawford International will give the group more flexibility to manoeuvre the retailer's lucrative assets when Hong Kong starts to recover, according to analysts. While awaiting details of the proposal, analysts believed the parent company was eyeing Lane Crawford's property investments and a share portfolio which accounted for the majority of its $1.4 billion asset value on March 31 last year. They were also intrigued by the timing of the proposal, which coincided with a planned $1.52 billion restructuring by rival Dickson Concepts (International). Although the proposals differ largely, they share a similarity - controlling shareholders attempting to tighten their grip on the companies. Lane Crawford would be delisted after the privatisation, which would give Wheelock 100 per cent control, against an existing 74.66 per cent of the company's A shares and 66.26 per cent of its B shares. Dickson Concepts chairman Dickson Poon and his associates plan to raise their stake in the company to 75 per cent from 55 per cent. A European brokerage analyst said: 'It's a barometer showing how tycoons feel about the outlook for Hong Kong's economy. 'It also shows they believe Hong Kong is approaching the bottom of its economic cycle, which means it's high time for acquisitions,' he said. Wheelock and Lane Crawford chairman Gonzaga Li Wei-jen yesterday refused to comment on the reasons for the privatisation. He said: 'I will not say anything about that. It's a very sensitive issue. All will be made clear very soon.' The company's retailing business has done badly amid the spending slump, with property and stock investments supporting its operating profit for the year to March last year. SG Securities director Robert Sassoon pointed out that Lane Crawford's A and B shares were trading at a quarter of their net asset values (NAVs). 'Even if the NAVs went down by 30 per cent last year because of the stock and property downturn, the shares were still trading at one-third below the NAVs,' he said. 'So, it's a good and cheap buy for Wheelock.' South China Brokerage research manager Kenny Lau Siu-man believed Wheelock might redevelop Lane Crawford's prime real-estate asset, Lane Crawford House in Queen's Road, Central. The property carried a market value of almost $600 million in March last year, but could have appreciated during the past six months, he said. 'The share portfolio, made up of mostly blue chips, can be sold at a huge profit when the market picks up,' he said.