Hong Kong tycoon to buy British water utility

2nd August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing on Tuesday announced his firm would buy one of Britain's biggest water utilities in a deal worth nearly $4 billion.

The move is the latest by the Hong Kong tycoon into Britain's utility sector after he bought the British power distribution network of French electricity giant EDF in November.

That deal was the largest deal by a Hong Kong entity in the country.

Li's Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings (CKI) will pay 465 pence a share for Northumbrian Water, the firms said in a statement.

The purchase -- at a premium of 21.4 percent on Northumbrian's share price before Li announced his interest -- will be carried out through Cheung Kong's newly incorporated UK Water.

It values the British firm at about 2.41 billion pounds ($3.9 billion).

Northumbrian is one of Britain's biggest water services companies, supplying northeastern England, and has about 2.6 million customers.

The deal, which is subject to the approval of Northumbrian shareholders, is expected to close in October, the British firm said in a statement on its website.

"Whilst Northumbrian would have a strong future as an independent company, the consortium's offer to Northumbrian shareholders fairly values the current and future prospects of the company," said its chairman Derek Wanless.

The Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan Board, which holds about 26.8 percent of its shares, planned to vote in favour of Cheung Kong's offer, according to the statement.

Northumbrian is among 10 regulated water and sewage businesses in England and Wales, it said. For the fiscal year ended March 31, Northumbrian reported revenues of 738.1 million pounds, up from 704.7 million pounds a year ago.

"Northumbrian has an excellent reputation in the UK water sector," said H.L. Kam, CKI group managing director in a statement.

CKI is a division of Cheung Kong Holdings, the flagship company of Li, the richest man in Hong Kong and nicknamed "Superman" for his long-running business success.

The Hong Kong firm also said Tuesday that it has sold Cambridge Water Plc, which supplies fresh water to about 300,000 people in southern England, to banking giant HSBC.

It said the transaction was completed prior to announcing the Northumbrian deal, but did not give further details.

Cheung Kong has interests in hotels, property, infrastructure, telecoms and retail businesses. It is one of the biggest developers in Hong Kong, where one in seven private residences were developed by the company.

The firm has invested heavily abroad as it seeks to broaden his earnings base owing to difficulties expanding in Hong Kong.

In November Cheung Kong joined with Hongkong Electric Holdings in a consortium to buy EDF for 9.28 billion pounds, Li's fifth purchase in Britain.

CKI has also gas distributor Northern Gas Networks and it also holds a small stake in Southern Water, which supplies water and waste water services to the south of England, according to CKI's website.

Shares of CKI closed up 3.01 percent at HK$46.15 ($5.92), after it surged to HK$47.25 at one point, while parent company Cheung Kong Holdings ended the day 0.08 percent down at HK$121.30.

The 83-year-old Li was ranked in March as the 11th wealthiest person in the world by the Forbes rich list, with a net worth estimated at $26 billion.

© 2011 AFP

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