Hong Kong tycoon's M&A spree promises bumper year for Asia banks

Sun Jan 25, 2015 4:09pm EST
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By Denny Thomas

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Li Ka-shing's hectic start to 2015 has meant record Asia M&A, loan and equity deals so far this month - good news for investment bankers close to the 86-year-old Hong Kong tycoon's empire.

The brisk business - $108 billion of Asia M&A makes it the best start to a year, according to Thomson Reuters data - raises hopes that the Chinese Year of the Goat could bring a windfall to a region that has been starved of fees.

Li's companies have single-handedly led the deal flurry.

Over the years, Goldman Sachs (GS.N: Quote) has emerged as Li's favored bank, pulling in an estimated $220 million in fees from Li's two main companies Hutchison Whampoa 0013.HK and Cheung Kong Holdings (0001.HK: Quote) since 2000. That tops the $136 million earned from Li by HSBC Holdings (HSBA.L: Quote), traditionally Li's go-to bank for financing deals with its dominant local presence and a dedicated team to cover Li's companies. Bank of America Corp (BAC.N: Quote) earned $131 million.

As Asia's richest man steps up the pace of overseas M&A, eyeing infrastructure, telecoms and retail businesses in Europe, and cranks up a new aviation lease unit, bankers see yet more deals. For banks, maintaining a close and strategic relationship with Li, his son Victor and their trusted lieutenant Canning Fok has become more critical as new advisers hover.

Bankers who have worked with Li and Fok say they are fair fee-payers who offer the market rate for financial advice. That makes it even more important to maintain close ties as Asian clients are often reluctant to pay for M&A advice.

Sluggish deal flows and drawn-out negotiations can frustrate banks in Asia, forcing some to rely just on initial public offers of shares and follow-on share sales for revenue. In contrast, Fok is known for the speed of his dealmaking.

"Everything they can do tomorrow, they want to do today. The sense of urgency is just ... they always want to do things," said one individual who has worked on Li's deals.   Continued...

Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing waves after a news conference in Hong Kong January 9, 2015.  REUTERS/Tyrone Siu