The surprise HK$12.1 billion asset acquisition proposed by Henderson Land Development from subsidiary Henderson Investment has raised questions about the ultimate aim of the move. Chief among them is whether the city's third-largest developer, controlled by Lee Shau-kee, aims to privatise its 67.94 per cent-owned Henderson Investment, something it has attempted twice before. The move also raised concerns that the parent company might next exploit an asset buyout loophole to acquire Henderson Investment's 38.47 per cent interest in the cash-spinner, Hong Kong and China Gas (Towngas) - the city's dominant piped-gas supplier. To buy Henderson Investment's assets, Henderson Land just needs the go-ahead from more than 50 per cent of the unit's minority shareholders. Taking over the listed firm requires 90 per cent approval. If these are not the aims, then what is? Henderson Land minority shareholder Frederick Tsang said he was confused about the rationale behind the deal. 'The most attractive asset of Henderson Investment is Towngas. But the acquisition did not involve it,' said Mr Tsang, also the director of China Everbright Research. 'So far, there is no sign that Henderson Land intends to privatise Henderson Investment. [The acquisition] could be just a simple streamlining move.' The share performance of Henderson Land yesterday probably reflected minority shareholders' questions over the deal. The stock rose 3.17 per cent to HK$45.50 after trading resumed. Henderson Investment rallied 6.45 per cent to HK$15.52 as the firm's directors proposed a special dividend of up to HK$5 a share should the asset sale, which includes 31.36 per cent of Hong Kong Ferry (Holdings) and 44.21 per cent of Miramar Hotel and Investment, gain minority shareholders' approval. The parent company is prohibited from voting on the deal. Henderson Land vice-chairman Colin Lam Ko-yin maintained in an interview with the South China Morning Post that the company had no plans to privatise Henderson Investment, noting it had failed twice in this endeavours after more than 10 per cent of minority shareholders voted against the offers by the parent company in 2003 and last year. UBS property analyst Eric Wong accepts Mr Lam's assertion, saying the company had accomplished what it set out to do with the privatisation: to have Towngas more accurately valued by the market. Subject to minority shareholders' approval of the deal, Henderson Investment will become a holding company for Towngas' key asset. However, even Mr Wong said this was unlikely to be the final shuffle, predicting Henderson Land would turn Henderson Investment into its mainland property and infrastructure arm. If, however, yesterday's announcement was just the first step in stripping Henderson Investment of its assets, then it would follow the line being promoted by analysts who see the action as mirroring PCCW's disembowelling of subsidiary Sunday Communications late last year. After Hong Kong's largest telecommunications operator failed to gain minority shareholders' approval to privatise its mobile unit, it bought its assets and then delisted it. While Mr Lam rejects this proposition, the guessing game of what his boss' next move might be continues. What was clear, analysts said, was that the transaction would help streamline the entire group's structure and make it easier for a further shuffling down the line, if that is the plan.