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Temasek to buy 24.95% of A.S. Watson

HONG KONG -- Asia's richest man Li Ka-shing announced Friday that a Singapore state investment fund had agreed to buy just under 25 percent of his flagship retail chain, in a deal worth more than US$5.6 billion.

Singapore's Temasek will purchase 24.95 percent of A.S. Watson — part of Li's vast Hutchison Whampoa conglomerate — for HK$44 billion (US$5.67 billion), a Hutchison statement said, calling it a “strategic alliance.”

Watson had “grown internationally in the past two decades” with more than 10,500 stores worldwide, the statement said, adding that the deal valued the retail chain at HK$177 billion.

The announcement came as a surprise as markets had expected Watson would be listing in Hong Kong and London by June, in what could have been the world's biggest initial public offering since late 2012, predicted to raise $6 billion.

But in light of the new deal, Li said the listing would be “unlikely” this year and that it would now be pushed back by two to three years, without explaining further.

He also said that the company would be listed in two places — but not London.

“I am now thinking that it would be in Hong Kong and Singapore,” Li said of the possible listing locations.

He said that the Temasek alliance was a quicker way to raise capital than the listing process.

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