Billionaire Li Set to Reclaim Spot as Asia’s Richest Person

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Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing is set to regain his spot as Asia’s richest person as flagship Cheung Kong Holdings Ltd.’s shares surged the most in more than six years following his $24 billion reorganization plan.

The 86-year-old tycoon has a $30.8 billion fortune as of the close in Hong Kong. That puts him almost $3 billion ahead of Jack Ma, the billionaire chairman of Hangzhou, China-based Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., who was worth $28.2 billion as of Jan. 9, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The increase in Li’s wealth puts him on track to become the 15th richest person in the world, overtaking European retail billionaires Bernard Arnault and Stefan Persson. Li proposed to restructure the assets of his companies into two new entities, one focusing on property mainly in Hong Kong and China, and the other on global assets from utilities and ports to retail stores across more than 50 countries.

“This reorganization is far from a surprise and has long been discussed,” Andrew Lawrence, an analyst with CIMB Group Holdings Bhd, wrote in a research note today. “It will make for a cleaner corporate structure and remove many of the cross-group investments that made it difficult to understand the group.”

Cheung Kong shares jumped 15 percent to HK$143.20, the biggest gain since October 2008. Hutchison Whampoa Ltd., which is 50 percent controlled by Cheung Kong, climbed 13 percent, the most since October 1997.

Jack Ma

More than half of Li’s wealth is derived from Cheung Kong, which had declined 4.2 percent this year before today’s surge. Alibaba’s Ma, 50, last month briefly overtook Li as Asia’s wealthiest, the first change in Asia’s top spot since April

2012. The two billionaires have since been in a close race for the No. 1 position in the region.

Ma, a former English teacher who started the e-commerce company in his apartment in 1999, added about $25 billion to his wealth last year, riding a 53 percent surge in the company’s shares since its September initial public offering.

Li’s proposal will help streamline the structure of his companies and make it easier for shareholders to choose which businesses they want to invest in.

“We would see the reorganization as beneficial to shareholders and, thus, retain our overweight on Cheung Kong,” Barclays Plc analysts Paul Louie and Iris Poon said in a report today.

Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, is the world’s 15th richest person with a $29.9 billion fortune as of Jan. 9, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Persson, chairman of Hennes & Mauritz AB, Europe’s second-biggest clothing retailer commonly known as H&M, is worth $28.6 billion.