A failed grocery deal by Asia’s richest man is good news for the Hong Kong Stock Exchange

First you park, then you shop—but it’s proven tough to sell.
First you park, then you shop—but it’s proven tough to sell.
Image: Reuters/Bobby Yip
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Li Ka-shing, the richest man in Asia by a wide margin, has been diversifying his business out of Hong Kong and into Europe—but a recent bump in the road could end up being a boon for Hong Kong’s embattled stock exchange. Li’s Hutchison Whampoa conglomerate just cancelled the sale of its Hong Kong grocery store chain ParknShop, a deal that has been bubbling since July, because it “would not deliver maximum value to shareholders.”

There were plenty of interested bidders, but none came with the right combination of price, ability to finance the deal and acceptable long-term plans for the grocery chain, one person involved in the deal negotiations said. Private equity investors KKR and TPG Capital Management were ruled out early, when their top bid was $2.6 billion, well below the $3 to $4 billion analysts estimated ParknShop was worth. Australia’s Woolworths and state-run China Resources Enterprise were also interested in the 345 store chain, which has a 40% share of Hong Kong’s supermarket industry and revenue of $2.8 billion last year.

“This was not a fire sale,” said the person involved with the deal. When Li failed to get the bidder he wanted he decided it was time to try Plan B. That will mean leaving ParknShop under the corporate umbrella of Watsons Group, Hutchinson’s 11,000-plus store retail unit, which Hutchison is now considering for a public offering. In addition to ParknShop, Watsons owns drug stores, perfume shops and electronics stores across Europe and Asia. The IPO will almost certainly be on the Hong Kong stock exchange, advisers and analysts say, and could bring in an estimated $13 billion if Hutchison sells a 49% stake.

That’s much-needed good news for the Hong Kong stock exchange, which suffered a setback earlier this year when Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba said it would go public in New York instead of Hong Kong. While Watson’s brick-and-mortar heavy chain of retail stores isn’t exactly sexy or high-tech, its IPO value would be almost double all of the combined initial public offerings on the exchange so far this year.