Li Ka-shing, the owner of Hong Kong-based telecommunications and ports conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa, has told shareholders that his company has sold half of its shares in European telcos Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom for approximately USD2.5 billion. Hutchison acquired the stakes at the height of the telecoms boom in 2000 following deals which saw its shareholdings in US wireless operator VoiceStream and German operator Mannesmann pass to Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone respectively. Mr Li said the holdings were sold over the past few months because they were regarded as non-core assets. He added that the value of Hutchison’s remaining stakes in the two European operators had a current book value of ‘less than USD2.5 billion’.
Hutchison will use some of the funds from the sales to launch third-generation (3G) mobile services in Hong Kong next month. The operator has already launched 3G services in Australia, Austria, Italy, Sweden and the UK and was recently selected as the preferred candidate for a 3G licence in Ireland. Despite negative forecasts from the analyst community, Mr Li remains highly optimistic about the company’s strategy, saying he believes Hutchison’s 3G operations will achieve break-even in the short-term. The company currently has around 90,000 3G users in Italy and 25,000 in the UK and is planning a major new advertising campaign in mid-June in a bid to boost take-up rates.