CK Holdings shows signs of recovering property market

While turning a tiny profit in Q4, Hong Kong property developer CK has seen its income from mainland business cut in half.

Photo from CFP

Photo from CFP

By WANG Tingting


Hong Kong property developer Cheung Kong (CK) Holdings performed reasonably well last year, despite its income from operations in the Chinese mainland being cut by more than half.

CK’s revenue in 2022 went down 4.4 percent year on year to HK$79.6 billion (US$10.1 billion, 69.6 billion yuan), but profit was up 2.1 percent to 21.7 billion yuan (US$3.1 billion).

Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, the president of CK and the eldest son of legendary patriarch Li Ka-shing, put growth in profit down to strategic trading.

Legendary status

“The real estate business is a long-term venture. We must look into the distant future,” said Li. “The digits of a quarter, or a year, do not mean anything.”

In February 2021, Forbes magazine’s HK fortune league showed that Li Ka-shing had reclaimed his prime position as Hong Kong's richest person, with his net assets topping US$35.40 billion (240 billion yuan). Li was born in 1928 in Chaozhou, a coastal city in the eastern Guangdong province. Li quit school at 12 and fled to Hong Kong with his family to avoid the war.

The CK Group is perhaps the largest developer of hotel, industrial, office, residential and retail properties in Hong Kong. In its long history, CK has built many of Hong Kong's most notable landmark buildings and complexes. Other arms of the CK conglomerate take in ports, infrastructure and telecommunications in over 50 countries.

Against the trend

In March last year, CK sold an office building in London for HK$7.5 billion. A month later, the company sold its aircraft rental business for HK$33 billion. In September, CK announced a plan to sell a luxury real estate development on Borrett Road in Hong Kong for HK$20.8 billion.

The company has done well to cash in on so many big sales.

The problem, if there is one, is that CK’s main business is not doing so well. The income from sales of homes amounted to HK$25.8 billion, down by a third. Revenue from properties in the mainland was only HK$10 billion, down by more than half. The company blamed the pandemic, which also hurt CK’s rental business.

What makes KC different from most Chinese property developers is mounting debt. While other developers are busy accumulating even as much debt as they can bear, KC is actually reducing its burden. The developer’s total debt was halved over the year. KC’s liabilities now stand at only HK$48.6 billion, with HK$2.5 billion due within a year.

In recent years, CK has kept a low profile in the land market. The company spent only HK$30 billion on four plots and two redevelopment projects in 2022.

No retreat, no surrender

“We don’t make hostile bids for plots,” said Li. “If we do not get something, and it is because we did not climb on board the crazy train, so be it.”

When asked if CK is about to retreat from overseas markets, Li said the company is a “global enterprise” and there are no “local or overseas” markets.

“For our shareholders, it does not matter where we are selling the buildings, but how much money we are able to bring in,” he said.