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Hong Kong property

Li Ka-shing sells The Center in US$5.15 billion record deal to trim his flagship’s Hong Kong assets

The buyer is a consortium of Hong Kong investors and Chinese buyers led by Beijing-based China Energy Reserve & Chemicals Group

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 November, 2017, 8:40pm
UPDATED : Friday, 03 November, 2017, 9:55am

Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong’s wealthiest tycoon and chairman of CK Asset Holdings, has parted ways with the tallest building in his property portfolio, selling The Center tower for a record HK$40.2 billion (US$5.15 billion) to a consortium of the city’s investors and buyers from mainland China, marking what could be the world’s most expensive real estate transaction.

The buyer of the 73-storey tower, Hong Kong’s fifth-tallest building, is identified as C.H.M.T. Peaceful Development Asia Property, incorporated under in the British Virgin Islands, according to the stock exchange filings of Li’s flagship company CK Asset Holdings. The consortium’s largest shareholder is Beijing-based China Energy Reserve & Chemicals Group (CERCG), with a 55 per cent stake, according to property industry sources familiar with the transaction.

Read: Brokers test market appetite for 50pc resale premium, even before ink dries on The Center’s price tag

“It shows that Hong Kong’s commercial property market is still competitive, and is unlikely to be affected by high prices,” said Vincent Cheung, deputy managing director for Asia Valuation and advisory at Colliers International.

Li, who turns 90 next July, has been seeking to sell the building for at least a year, as he sought to trim his Hong Kong assets. Estimated at more than HK$35 billion by valuers, The Center attracted the attention of a handful of deep-pocketed Chinese buyers including the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), one of the mainland’s largest state-owned lenders.

However, no deal was reported for many months, due mostly to a Chinese government crackdown on capital remittances and aggressive overseas acquisitions, which gummed up transactions and approvals to move funds offshore.

The buyers who finally sealed the deal include a group of Hong Kong businessmen, who together own 45 per cent in the consortium. Among them is David Chan Ping-chi, known as the city’s “King of Cassettes” and chairman of Acme Group, the source said without divulging his stake.

Hong Kong businessman Lo Man Tuen, chairman of the Wing Li Group and a delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), is also a consortium member, the sources said.

The tower in downtown Central has 1.2 million square feet (111,483 square metres) of office space, with 13,000 square feet of retail space and 402 car parking lots.

The building, completed in 1998, is an entire steel structure without a concrete core. Its iconic lobby was featured in the Hollywood movie The Dark Knight.

Read: China’s state oil behemoth gets a marquee Hong Kong address after buying Li Ka-shing’s building

CK owns 48 storeys in the building after Malaysian developer Guoco Group bought 11 floors in 1997. Nine of the 11 floors were sold to Singapore’s DBS Group Holdings Co. in 1998, while CK sold the 60th and 79th floors in 1999, according to The Center’s sales brochure.

Li has sold more than 20 billion yuan (US$3 billion) of commercial properties in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou since 2013. The tycoon’s business empire covers container ports, phone networks, power plants, real estate, retail outlets with assets in Asia, Europe and North America.

CK Asset’s share price jumped as much as 3.2 per cent on October 16, the most in a month, when the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported that the building had been sold, without identifying the buyer. The stock rose 0.9 per cent on Wednesday to HK$64.70 in Hong Kong.

CK Asset is taking advantage of an explosive demand of office real estate by mainland Chinese companies in Hong Kong, analysts said. The decline in the Chinese yuan against the US dollar has also made it more attractive for mainland banks to seek better returns by parking their capital in real estate.

China Life Insurance Co., the country’s largest insurer, paid HK$5.85 billion in November last year for Wheelock & Co.’s One HarbourGate office tower and retail podium in Hung Hom. On the same day, China Evergrande Group, the country’s second-largest developer, forked out a record HK$12.5 billion for the 26-storey Mass Mutual Tower in Wan Chai from Chinese Estates Holdings.

With additional reporting by Sandy Li.

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