Li Ka-shing's CK Asset issues first profit warning as Hong Kong and UK businesses suffer, CK Hutchison says retail earnings might be halved this year

By Sandy Li / | May 19, 2020 1:06 PM SGT
Hong Kong-based conglomerate CK Asset Holdings issued a profit warning on Thursday, its first since it was listed in 2015 as part of a restructure of Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing's Cheung Kong Holdings.
The company said lower property sales and negative contribution from its hotels division, as well as the temporary closure of its pubs in the United Kingdom in the first quarter, could "result in a material reduction to the group's profit attributable to shareholders" for the six months ending June 30, 2020, if such a financial performance continues into the second quarter, as compared with the same period last year. CK Asset, which owns the pub company Greene King, operates 2,700 pubs, restaurants and hotels in the UK.
In a filing to the stock exchange, it said the closures had contributed to a negative contribution from its pub operations, which had been shut because of the coronavirus pandemic, while the market value of its holdings in listed real estate investment trusts had declined as of March 31.
The company reported a profit of HK$15.12 billion (US$1.95 billion) for the six months ended June 2019, down 38.8 per cent from a year ago.
"Every business and sector around the world are suffering under the current environment," said Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, Li Ka-shing's elder son and CK Asset's chairman and managing director, who hosted an annual general meeting of listed flagships CK Asset and CK Hutchison Holdings on Thursday.
He said the companies' financial position was stable and healthy, with a gearing ratio in low single digits. "The group should be one of the most resilient companies among peers in the world," Li said, adding that the companies would still receive an A rating from credit agencies.
CK Hutchison, meanwhile, said on Thursday its retail earnings might be halved in the first half of this year after the coronavirus pandemic forced it to shut stores for many months in mainland China, Europe and the United Kingdom.
About 95 per cent of the stores operated by AS Watson Group, the world's biggest health and beauty retailer, which is owned by CK Hutchison, were closed in China in January and February, while some of its stores in Europe and the UK were closed in April and May, Canning Fok Kin-ning, CK Hutchison's co-managing director, said in a statement released after the group annual general meeting.
"Sales in Hong Kong and Asia will offset the losses incurred in Europe," Fok said, adding that he expected overall retail business sales to fall by about 50 per cent in the first half of this year. "Recently, we saw sales surge 50 per cent or 100 per cent in the first several days after stores reopened in Europe. We believe our retail performance should be acceptable in the second half of this year, when more stores will open," he said.
The conglomerate's retail division had 15,794 stores across 25 markets at the end of 2019. The stores in mainland China started to provide positive sales growth when they reopened in March, and even bounced back to 80 per cent of their pre-coronavirus levels in April, Fok said.
As far as telecommunications was concerned, Fok said the sector will be unaffected because of higher usage of services by people staying home under social-distancing and lockdown measures.
Li also said online registration for face masks being produced by A S Watson Group will be open to the public next week.
A S Watson Group has converted a part of a water plant in Hong Kong's New Territories into a mask production line. The company, which operates more than 7,800 stores across Asia and Europe, will sell the masks at a price of HK$79.9 (US$10) for a box of 30 at its shops and online from mid-May.
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