Hutchison’s Watson to Sell 50% Stake in Asian Duty-Free

The retail arm of billionaire Li Ka-shing’s Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. plans to sell its 50 percent stake in a venture that operates duty-free stores as the company seeks to focus its health and beauty business.

A.S. Watson & Co. reached an agreement yesterday to sell its interest to venture partner Nuance Group AG by the end of June, according to an e-mailed statement by the company which didn’t disclose financial details. The venture operates 46 stores in Asian cities including Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore, offering retail services primarily in airports and duty-free stores in downtown shopping malls, according to the statement.

Hutchison agreed in March to sell a 25 percent stake in Watson to Temasek Holdings Pte for HK$44 billion ($5.7 billion) and pushed back plans for an initial public offering for the unit. Hutchison gained funds as it expands in Europe and North America while reducing assets in Hong Kong and China.

“We see this deal as an opportunity for us to focus on our core retail operations,” said Dominic Lai, Watson’s managing director. “We continue to expand rapidly in Asia and Europe to sustain and extend our leadership in health and beauty retail, as well as our diverse retail portfolio in Hong Kong.”

Hutchison, with interests in retail, ports and telecommunications, scrapped plans to sell ParknShop, the grocery business of Watson, in October. Chairman Li said in March the company may continue to sell assets within the group.

Watson is Hutchison’s biggest unit by sales with health and beauty stores and groceries such as Hong Kong’s ParknShop. Watson’s net income grew to HK$7.8 billion in 2013, from HK$6.9 billion a year earlier, Hutchison said in March.

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