End of an era as Hopewell plans $2.56 billion privatization
Founded 45 years ago, the company became one of the five biggest real estate firms in Hong Kong, but paid a steep price for its focus on infrastructure
Property tycoon Gordon Wu Ying-sheung plans to take his flagship Hopewell Holdings company private, according to media reports, in a buyout that could cost as much as HK$20 billion (US$2.56 billion).
Shares in Hopewell were suspended on Monday pending further details of the move, which would be the end of an era for a firm that has been part of the real estate market in Hong Kong for 45 years.
Wu, 83, and other family members own 35% of Hopewell, which has a market capitalization of nearly HK$23 billion (US$2.9 billion), but little turnover. With a 40% premium, it is believed they would have to spend about HK$20 billion to buy out other shareholders.
Founded by the late Wu Chung in the 1970s, Hopewell became one of the five real estate firms that would lead the development of the city, along with Cheung Kong (Holdings), Sun Hung Kai Properties, Hang Lung Properties and Tai Cheung Holdings. It was listed in 1972.
Chung passed the baton to his son Gordon, a civil engineering graduate from Princeton University in the US who showed more interest in pursuing infrastructure projects. These included a bridge connecting the Pearl River Delta, now known as Greater Bay Area.
In the 1980s Hopewell built a 12-kilometer expressway connecting Guangzhou and Shenzhen, one of the earliest infrastructure projects after China opened its doors for foreign investment. It was also 35 years ago that Wu first suggested a Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge.
The company sold its infrastructure arm, along with the Guangzhou and Shenzhen expressway, for HK$9.86 billion last year after the investment return on projects slumped. Its share price went the same way, as the one-time investor darling slid into negative territory.
Critics say that it would have been better for Hopewell to stick with property assets, always a sure bet in Hong Kong, instead of being focused on bridges and power plants – which almost drowned the company in debt during the East Asian financial crisis in 1997.
It was Hopewell’s core land bank in Wanchai that got it through this period. The main company assets are still the three buildings in Queen’s Road, Wanchai: the Wu Chung Building, Hopewell Center, and the upcoming Hopewell Centre II, each of which represents a towering generation of achievement by the Wu family. Wu passed on the baton himself in 2007 to son Thomas Jefferson.
Hopewell Center opened in 1978, and a visit to the R66 Revolving Restaurant on the 62nd floor became a treasured memory for many people during the 1980s. But like the company itself, the restaurant saw some tough times in later years.
In 2012, it stopped turning and became a Spanish eatery. Three years later it was renamed The Grand Buffet and started revolving again.