Billionaire Li Ka-shing won the approval of his shareholders to pursue the purchase of Australian power provider Duet Group, paving the way for the Hong Kong tycoon to diversify away from his reliance on Europe.
The A$7.4 billion ($5.6 billion) bid made by Li’s companies — Cheung Kong Property Holdings Ltd., Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings Ltd. and Power Assets Holdings Ltd. — was backed by minority investors at all three companies at shareholder meetings in Hong Kong on Tuesday, the firms said in filings. The transaction also needs approval from Duet shareholders.
Duet would give Asia’s third-richest man access to an energy network covering an area three times the size of Hong Kong as the tycoon faces uncertainties in Europe — his biggest market — with a string of elections this year. The deal, which would be Li’s biggest in the country if completed, will need to be cleared by the government, which in August blocked Li from buying a majority stake in Ausgrid, citing national security concerns.
Duet shares have jumped about 19 percent since Cheung Kong Infrastructure made an all-cash bid in early December. Li sweetened the offer in January by including a special dividend and split the bid among the three companies pending shareholder approvals.
Li has yet to receive approval from Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board, which had been expected to make a decision by last month. Winning the FIRB’s blessing could be delayed by the Australian government’s decision to set up a Critical Infrastructure Centre, which may undertake its own national-security-risk assessment on the deal, according to a Royal Bank of Canada research note on Feb. 21. With submissions on the CIC’s powers of operation not due until Mar. 21, CKI may fail to hit a mid-May deadline for the deal to be implemented, according to RBC.
Buying Duet would help reduce Li’s reliance on the U.K., which is the biggest profit generator for his flagship firm CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd. The U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union hurt Li’s businesses by weakening the pound and increasing uncertainty about the country’s global trade rules.
Beyond Duet, the Hong Kong billionaire’s companies already own stakes in assets including SA Power Networks, Powercor Australia, Australian Gas Networks and CitiPower I Pty Ltd.
Duet’s assets include the Dampier-Bunbury pipeline in Western Australia, a stake in electricity distributor United Energy, gas distribution business Multinet Gas, pipelines business DBP Development Group and Energy Developments Ltd., according to Duet’s website.