(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong billionaire Henry Cheng’s family increased its stake in New World Development Co. in the latest show of support for the debt-laden property developer, whose shares reached a 20-year low this week.
The family purchased a total of 1.6 million shares on Tuesday and Wednesday for HK$17.2 ($2.2 million) through Chow Tai Fook Capital Ltd., filings showed Thursday.
Led by Chief Executive Officer Adrian Cheng — Henry’s son — New World has been grappling with a high debt load, raising concerns among investors and analysts. Rising interest rates and a slumping Hong Kong real estate market have added to the company’s woes.
“It makes sense for the family to buy shares to show its support,” said Patrick Wong, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst, noting that the stock is trading at just 0.14 times the book value of its assets. The move increased Chow Tai Fook Capital’s stake to 45.3% from 45.24% in June.
Shares of New World closed 0.4% lower on Thursday, taking this year’s decline to 50%, the largest loss among its Hong Kong peers. The stock earlier rose as much as 3.3% on news of the stake purchase, before erasing the gains.
The share purchase comes after New World sold a stake in its NWS Holdings Ltd. subsidiary to the family’s investment holding company to cut debts. Gearing and a lower proportion of stable earnings after selling the unit will weigh on New World’s share price, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts including Gurpreet Singh Sahi wrote in a note this week.
New World’s net debt to equity was 94% at the end of June, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. That compares with 42% at peer Henderson Land Development Co., and Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd.’s 18%.
The Cheng family has been under a spotlight recently after the patriarch Henry said publicly that he had yet to find a successor to lead the family empire. The comment piqued interest in Hong Kong over Adrian’s status as heir apparent for the $26 billion conglomerate.
Henry’s daughter Sonia is in charge of Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group Ltd. and the Rosewood hotel business. Chow Tai Fook Jewellery repurchased nearly 8 million shares for about HK$87 million between Nov. 28 and Dec. 5.
New World bought back $610 million of seven dollar bonds earlier this week in another effort to shore up its finances.
The Cheng family’s empire spans shopping malls, office towers, casinos, hotels and jewelry stores across Hong Kong and mainland China. The group’s holdings include some of the most iconic properties in Hong Kong, like the New World Tower and the Victoria Dockside complex.
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