The message from the annual results of Hutchison Whampoa and Cheung Kong (Holdings) was clear. Where jaded investors fear Europe's third generation (3G) telephone market may turn out a spectacular folly, group chairman Li Ka-shing remains a believer in his biggest business bet. Announcing better than expected results, Mr Li called for patience - after all he had been here before with the launch of Orange in Britain during the mid-1990s - and refused to write-down the value of eight European 3G radio spectrum licences costing about HK$70 billion. Hutchison is slated to spend a similar sum building its Europe-wide network. Its British roll-out is moving apace and the service is scheduled to launch late this year. Financing and equipment vendor agreements are in place and most have no direct recourse to the firm's balance sheet. Yet attempts to value the start-up network are almost meaningless given finger-in-the-wind estimates of consumer interest and willingness to pay for 3G. Investors are voting with their wallets as Hutchison's share price implies the European venture has almost no value. As an unbuilt operation the firm said it was not required to record a write-down but offered no details of the asset impairment test undertaken. Investors were, however, for the first time given basic turnover and income data for the firm's subsidiary businesses. The move fell far short of disclosure being made by firms such as General Electric, but it marked a minor victory for those believing market pressure can force better Asian corporate governance. Hutchison again revealed itself a smart financial market trader. Where consensus forecasts suggested it would post a net deficit of about HK$2 billion for asset disposals, the firm turned in a gain of HK$3.12 billion. The difference was largely explained by a forward sale of shares in Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone at prices significantly above its end-of-year carrying cost. Core operating profit of about HK$9 billion - excluding exceptional items - provided few surprises, reflecting a diverse business spread. Hong Kong remains a tough market for Hutchison with mobile telecommunications and port operations registering declining profit growth. By contrast business at its Yantian port operation galloped ahead, reflecting the all-bases-covered dominance Mr Li holds on the Pearl River Delta cargo trade. In recent years Mr Li has used press conferences to direct his ire at Hong Kong politicians, critical of his business dominance. Yesterday a more convenient channel for venting spleen was United States television network CNBC whose main anchor presenters last week dubbed him a Singaporean vassal of China's Red Army. Yet high profile US political opposition to the proposed Hutchison-led takeover of the bankrupted Global Crossing represents a mere annoyance. In tough operating conditions its bigger problem is growing profits as 3G spending rises. Cheung Kong has boosted its land bank in recent years but Mr Li was low key in tipping a property price recovery. It may reflect political deference to Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's promise of price stability. But Mr Li cited risks from rising US interest rates. Next year, Hutchison will start booking costs from its 3G roll-out. As its fixed-asset base grows it may be forced to adopt more radical balance-sheet management to enthuse investors. By the end of last year it had slipped into a marginal net debt position to the tune of HK$1.5 million. A trend has likely been set.