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  • 28-Year-Old Atop One of World’s Oldest Fortunes Faces Backlash

    (Bloomberg) -- Hugh Grosvenor, the seventh Duke of Westminster, is the U.K.’s third-richest person and considered by some its most eligible bachelor.He’s tried to stay out of the spotlight since inheriting his title in 2016, but these days it’s almost impossible for a billionaire, especially one with a global property empire, to remain in the background.Criticism is mounting for the Duke and his Grosvenor Group Ltd. The firm faces opposition to its plans to demolish a London tower that houses some of the city’s poorest residents, attracting negative headlines as rising inequality becomes an increasingly hot topic. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in October blasted the 28-year-old as a “dodgy landlord,” part of a broad-based attack on U.K. billionaires and the “rigged system.”This leaves the Grosvenor Group in an unenviable position with this week’s election.If the Conservative Party under Boris Johnson wins the Dec. 12 vote, then Brexit will follow, potentially devaluing London property.Polls in Sunday’s U.K. newspapers all give the Conservatives a clear lead over Labour, though they differ by how much.But if Labour can form a government, the family’s fortune may face an existential threat. Corbyn is campaigning on higher taxes for the wealthy, restrictions on landlords and has also suggested public registers for the type of trusts that discreetly manage the wealth of the Grosvenor family and other dynastic clans.A Labour government “would require far more transparency of wealth, particularly with trusts,” said Richard Murphy, professor of international political economy at City University of London. The Duke “didn’t choose to be what he is, as it’s an accident of birth, but he is a personification of a form of property ownership whose time has now passed.”A spokesman for the Duke of Westminster declined to comment.The Grosvenors have faced starker challenges than a firebrand Labour government, surviving through wars and political shifts.They trace their lineage back almost 1,000 years to a relative of William the Conqueror, who invaded England from Normandy in 1066. Their initial wealth was accumulated through mines and minerals, but they owe their modern fortune to a 17th century marriage. Sir Thomas Grosvenor received 500 acres of swamp and orchard to the west of the City of London as a dowry from the parents of his 12-year-old bride.Mayfair and Belgravia are now hotspots for some of London’s most well-heeled tenants, including luxury retailers, art galleries and hedge funds.Grosvenor Group has expanded to 60 cities worldwide and managed assets totaling 12.3 billion pounds ($15.9 billion) at the end of last year. But the company’s core is still London.Hugh became the head of his family’s estate when his father Gerald died from a heart attack at 64. According to the will, the sixth Duke of Westminster left 616 million pounds after debts and liabilities, with 20,000 pounds for each of his three daughters, who may receive additional income through the Grosvenor family trusts.Gerald’s guns, fishing equipment and cars passed to Hugh, who also received his title. U.K. laws effectively limit that part of inheritance to males. That gave Hugh a personal fortune now estimated at $11.8 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.Hugh had a very different upbringing than his father, who attended Harrow School and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Gerald loved fast cars, women and champagne at breakfast, according to “The Reluctant Billionaire,” a 2018 book by Tom Quinn.The current duke was educated at Ellesmere College, a private school near the Welsh border, and graduated from the University of Newcastle six years ago with a degree in Countryside Management.Hugh then joined the Grosvenor Estate’s graduate program, working in each segment of his family’s holdings, which also includes rural estates in the U.K. and Spain. Today, as Duke, Hugh is a trustee of the Grosvenor Estate. Grosvenor Group’s CEO Mark Preston has ultimate responsibility though for the fortune of Britain’s richest landlord.At the heart of it all is Grosvenor Square, a leafy public space in London bordered by embassies, celebrity-chef restaurants and hotel suites costing more than $5,000 a night. This month, silk roses dot the square, adding a festive touch to the center of Mayfair.That attention to detail hasn’t gone unnoticed by local residents.Grosvenor Estate “looks after and upgrades the public realm,” said Camilla Dell, founder of Black Brick Property Solutions, which buys real estate on behalf of the wealthy. “Pedestrian streets are widened, and they’ve been very conscious the shops are quality and different from one another.”But these improvements have helped push up prices so much that the areas are now synonymous with the international elite. One four-bedroom apartment in Grosvenor Square is on the market for 17 million pounds, and a nearby terraced house is offered at 65 million pounds.Home prices in this region are the highest in London. The same areas also have the city’s starkest income inequality, according to anti-poverty group Trust for London.The Grosvenor Estate’s philanthropic arm aims to tackle some of the harshest effects of inequality across its holdings by supporting charities that target homelessness. It also provides office space in London for non-profits, including the Childhood Trust, which focuses on poverty.But tensions are building, especially where Grosvenor Group interacts with the less affluent.A few blocks from Sloane Square, Belgravia, one of London’s exclusive areas, Grosvenor Group wants to demolish high-rise apartment blocks to build a residential complex with new shops, restaurants and double the existing affordable homes.Tenants housed by the local council in one tower set for demolition are furious at the prospect of being uprooted when the building’s lease expires in 2023. Supported by local Labour politicians, the residents have campaigned against the plans and more than 200,000 people have signed a petition supporting their cause.It was a similar story when Grosvenor Group last year proposed building about 1,300 units in Bermondsey, southeast London, aimed at workers without the means to buy a home and too much income to qualify for social housing. The area’s Labour-run council rejected the plans in February, criticizing Grosvenor Group for being “off the mark” in numbers of affordable homes.The firm has filed a fresh application to London’s governing body, which has the power to overrule local authorities and is expected to hold a public hearing on the matter by the end of the year.But even if these latest plans go through, the spotlight will remain on the Duke of Westminster and his empire.“With these huge fortunes, power has become extraordinary concentrated in the U.K. and goes virtually unchallenged,” said John Christensen, chair of Tax Justice Network, an advocacy group that pushes for financial transparency. “That has created a country of two parts with a tiny, very wealthy and powerful elite and the rest who are struggling and by and large all the tax provisions are geared to taxing those who are not elite. It’s a massive distortion.”(Updatates with polls in sixth paragraph.)\--With assistance from Jack Sidders.To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Stupples in London at bstupples@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Pierre Paulden at ppaulden@bloomberg.net, Steven CrabillFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Saudi Aramco's $2 Trillion Dream Isn't Really About Oil

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- Even now, the figure of $1.71 trillion is surely dramatic enough to fire the odd synapse in our jaded, zero-rate-numbed hive mind. That is the value at which Saudi Aramco will enter the stock market this week.Yet it still isn’t quite enough for some folks - Saudi Arabian royalty specifically. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman famously put a value of $2 trillion on Saudi Arabian Oil Co. when he first announced plans to float it, almost four years ago. Speaking on Friday at the end of a contentious OPEC+ gathering, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman (the Crown Prince’s half-brother) voiced displeasure at the media’s coverage of the IPO. He went on to say:… We decided to lower the valuation that we were seeking. But on the 11th [of December] the shares will be trading. And a few months from now, I’ll remind - I wouldn’t call them by name - but I think they will probably like to not have written those pieces that they have written. Because we will get Aramco and it will be higher than the two trillion, and I can bet that this will happen.Even the sell side usually gives it 12 months on a price target, but I have to concede Saudi officials have taken to the oil sector’s investor relations style with aplomb. High spirits are understandable, though; how often do you get to float the biggest company ever (not to mention one that also provides more than half your country’s public budget)? Don’t forget the political benefits, either: At this point, $2 trillion feels less like an actual dollar amount and more like a patriotic rallying cry.The energy minister may well soon be crowing to all who put Aramco’s value somewhere below $2 trillion (myself included) that we were wrong. Not that it would really matter. Having been scaled way back from the global offering envisaged originally to a minimal domestic listing, Aramco’s IPO puts the “market” in market value. Average daily trading volume for the entire Tadawul All Share Index over the past year is actually slightly less than that of just one oil major, Exxon Mobil Corp, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.Aramco’s imminent inclusion in emerging-market indices will undoubtedly suck some passive money toward it (a potential headwind for other emerging-market oil champions as well as fellow Tadawul constituents). However, while Aramco’s market cap is far bigger than that of the big five Western majors combined, its implied free float of about $28 billion is less than that of just one U.S. fracker, EOG Resources Inc. Speaking of which, the context of Prince Abdulaziz’s price target is interesting. He had just announced that Saudi Arabia would voluntarily keep another 400,000 barrels a day off the market beyond its new (reduced) supply target. It was this that pulled the OPEC+ meeting back from the brink of failure and halted a sell-off in oil on Friday.Saudi Arabia’s de facto crude-oil production target is now just over 9.74 million barrels a day, which is below its average for the year so far. Based on my math, and assuming $65 Brent, that would net Aramco free cash flow of about $70 billion in 2020, $5 billion shy of its minimum dividend payment(3). Of course, the new batch of minority shareholders wouldn’t suffer; the government has guaranteed their payout. But it re-emphasizes just how pricey Aramco is: A valuation of $2 trillion based on that $70 billion figure would imply a free-cash-flow yield of just 3.5%. That is not only far below what most of Aramco’s peers offer, it’s less than the yield on Aramco’s 30-year bonds. Taking this a step further, when I valued Aramco at just under $1.5 trillion, I assumed (among many other things) average crude oil production of 11 million barrels a day, $65 Brent and a dividend yield of 5.85%. But say production averages something less than that. At 10.5 million barrels a day, my math implies Aramco would need long-term oil prices north of $100 a barrel to justify a $2 trillion valuation. As it stands, the IPO implies a dividend yield of just under 4.4%. At 10.5 million barrels a day, even at that lower yield, a $2 trillion valuation needs $69 a barrel; at 10 million a day, it requires $74.Needless to say, the higher the oil price, the more breathing room for U.S. frackers (among other competitors); Prince Abdulaziz acknowledged as much on Friday. It would also have the opposite effect on demand. All of which matters, especially when an oil company has 60-odd years of reserves to monetize. Hence, even if markedly higher oil prices juiced Aramco’s near-term cash flows, they could also erode its long-term value.So when it comes to the dream of $2 trillion, focus less on oil prices going up and more on keeping those yields down. It’s the mismatch between the cost of capital on offer from global fund managers and the more generous terms provided by local and regional investors that explains Aramco’s valuation. On that basis, beyond scratching some emotional or political itch, it’s tough to say what hitting the magic number would really mean.(1) This assumes the target holds through 2020, although OPEC+ will meet to assess things in March.To contact the author of this story: Liam Denning at ldenning1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Gongloff at mgongloff1@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Liam Denning is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering energy, mining and commodities. He previously was editor of the Wall Street Journal's Heard on the Street column and wrote for the Financial Times' Lex column. He was also an investment banker.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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  • China Says All People Held in Xinjiang Camps Have ‘Graduated’

    (Bloomberg) -- China has completed what it says was “de-radicalization” training in its western Xinjiang region, officials said in Beijing, as the government sought to defend the widespread detention of ethnic minorities.Top officials for the predominately Muslim region of Xinjiang made the claim Monday during a briefing to promote policies they said were responsible for ending a spate of terrorist attacks. The briefing came less than a week after the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would sanction Chinese officials over percieved human rights abuses in the region, including what the United Nations says is the detention of as many as 1 million mostly Uighur Muslims.“All the students in the centers studying the national common language, law, vocational skills and de-radicalization courses have all graduated,” said Shohrat Zakir, Xinjiang’s governor and No. 2 official. While that’s further than Zakir went in a similar briefing in July when he said “the majority” of people had returned to their homes, he provided no numbers or other supporting evidence. He didn’t say whether the “graduates” had been released.It wasn’t immediately possible to verify the government’s claims, which have been previously questioned by activists. Independent analysis of satellite imagery, procurement records and government hiring announcements, as well as reporting by foreign media outlets including Bloomberg News, show that China has build a network of prison-like facilities across the region to house large populations.The House action last week came after a pair of high-profile leaks of internal Communist Party documents illustrating a broad campaign to implement and conceal the detention program. China has denounced the U.S. legislation as an inappropriate attempt to interfere in what it argues is a reasonable effort to fight terrorism and religious extremism.The bill “seriously violates international law and the basic principles of international relations and is a gross interference in China’s internal affairs,” Zakir told reporters Monday.More on who the Uighurs are and why China is locking them upThe region of Xinjiang -- a remote area the size of Alaska where China’s anti-terrorism efforts have focused -- is home to about 10 million members of the Turkic-speaking Uighur ethnic group. Chinese President Xi Jinping launched a crackdown on the region after a series of deadly terrorist attacks in 2013.Zakir, himself an ethnic Uighur, was one of four senior Xinjiang officials who defended the region’s policies Monday. He dismissed claims that 1 or 2 million people had been held in the detention centers as “groundless fabrications,” without providing numbers of his own.\--With assistance from Dandan Li.To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: James Mayger in Beijing at jmayger@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, Iain MarlowFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.