CK Hutchison Looking to Grow U.K. Mobile Business, Sixt Says

  • Group is ‘lobbying very hard’ to get airwaves in U.K., he says
  • Executive also defends recent investment in Chinese bank

Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing is looking at ways to expand his U.K. wireless business despite a failure to get regulators’ approval for a proposed merger of his mobile-phone business with Telefonica SA’s O2 unit earlier this year, an executive said.

The group is “lobbying very hard” and focused on acquiring airwaves in the U.K., Frank Sixt, the finance director of Li’s flagship CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd., said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Angie Lau on Tuesday. CK Hutchison will continue to be a major competitor in the market, he said.

In May, the European Union blocked CK Hutchison’s bid to create the U.K.’s biggest mobile carrier with the O2 merger, citing antitrust concerns. Combining O2 with Hutchison’s Three unit would have led to higher prices for all operators in the U.K., according to the EU.

“I don’t think that was the right conclusion but it was the conclusion drawn by competition authorities,” Sixt said. “I don’t think there’s any ability to effectively reverse the competition decision.”

Sixt, who spoke as a director in Li’s foundations, also defended the tycoon’s purchase of shares in Postal Savings Bank of China Co., an investment that was disclosed last week shortly before the country went on its National Day holidays. South China Morning Post columnist Shirley Lam recently wrote that Li probably went out of his way to publicize the purchase of a slow-growing Chinese bank so that it gets noticed by the government in the mainland.

Li, his three charitable foundations and his eldest son bought a combined 11.6 percent of the Chinese lender’s Hong Kong-listed shares, a stake that’s worth about $1.4 billion at current prices. The lender is less exposed to non-performing loans than other banks and is well positioned to take advantage of future growth in China’s rural areas, Sixt said in a separate interview.

"We were attracted to it from the get-go as being very unique," he said. "I think there were good reasons why people drew the conclusion that this could be a good investment."

Sixt also said the announcement was made the way it was because Li was obliged to disclose it and didn’t want to give the impression that he was "trying to have something important sort of disappear in a securities filing like the day before the National Day holiday."

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