(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong billionaire Henry Cheng said his family business is still looking for a successor, calling into question the long-held notion that his eldest son will take over his property and retailing empire.
Cheng, 76, is observing who may be the family’s next leader, he said in an interview on HOY TV over the weekend.
His eldest son, Adrian Cheng, is chief executive officer of New World Development Co., one of Hong Kong’s biggest real estate companies. The Cheng family also owns a stake in Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group Ltd. Adrian Cheng’s siblings include Sonia Cheng, who looks after the Rosewood Hotel Group.
Since the family has businesses in different sectors, it isn’t necessary to find a single leader, and instead members can take respective roles, Henry Cheng said. If there isn’t a suitable candidate, he may also consider hiring outside of the family.
Chow Tai Fook Enterprises Ltd., the flagship private investment company of the Cheng family, is led by Patrick Tsang, who is Henry’s nephew-in-law.
New World Development has rapidly grown under Adrian Cheng, with investments including a $2.6 billion mega mall-office complex next to the city’s airport and multiple projects in mainland China. The expansion has turned New World into the most indebted developer among its bigger peers. Its high leverage, combined with rising interest rates and the rippling effect of a property slump in mainland China, has raised concerns among investors.
“Investors may remain unimpressed with NWD’s high gearing ratio and subdued profitability compared to Hong Kong developer peers,” said Jeff Zhang, an analyst at Morningstar Inc. in Hong Kong. Regardless of any potential change in executives, “management should further pay down NWD’s debt and perpetual bonds to ease liquidity pressure,” he said.
Shares of New World rose 1.6% in Hong Kong trading on Monday. The stock has dropped 30% this year, more than a 10% loss for the benchmark Hang Seng Index.
New World’s net debt to shareholders’ equity was at 93.5% at the end of June, according Bloomberg Intelligence. The ratio could surge to 122.3% if the company sees declines in the value of its investment properties along with operating profit from property sales and rental income, BI analysts estimated last month.
Henry Cheng is the son of the deceased Cheng Yu-tong, who built the family fortune from jewelry and real estate. Henry Cheng has a net worth of $21.6 billion, making him Hong Kong’s third-richest person, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Cheng also said he wanted to spin off different businesses to list them at an appropriate time and environment to boost transparency.
New World unveiled plans in June to sell its NWS Holdings Ltd. unit to the Cheng family in a HK$35.5 billion ($4.6 billion) deal. The sale of NWS, whose operations range from roads, construction and logistics to insurance, would help the developer reduce its debt and focus on core property business.
(Updates with details about Chow Tai Fook Enterprises in fifth paragraph)
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