NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Li Ka-shing's business savvy and acumen in real estate investing have helped him become one of the world's richest individuals and earned him a number of nicknames including "Superman" and the "Warren Buffett of Asia." Like the actual Professor Buffett, when this financier makes a move, investors tend to listen. Li has amassed his great fortune through business ventures which have tapped into a vast number of industries and market slices. The financier has stakes in sectors, including retail, energy, manufacturing, and real estate. Aside from running his successful businesses, Li is an avid philanthropist. According to its Website, the Li Ka-Shing Foundation aims "to nurture a culture of giving and to foster creativity, constructive engagement, and sustainability through supporting capacity empowerment focused projects." While he is currently ranked the second richest man in Asia, Li has not always had this kind of financial stability. Li was born in 1928 in Southeast China. In 1940, his family, looking to avoid the perils of war, left their home for Hong Kong, where his family stayed with a wealthy uncle whose wealth Li envied. When he was just 15 years old, Li was forced to quit school and enter the workforce to support his family after his father passed away. In 1950, after years of hard work, Li was able to start his own company: a plastics manufacturing plant called Cheung Kong Industries. As the head of Cheung Kong, Li watched not only his business, but his personal wealth, blossom. By the mid-1980s, the firm had gained a listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and acquired two additional firms: Hutchison Whampoa and Hongkong Electric Holdings Limited.
Today, though his businesses span a vast number of sectors, his real estate ventures have grown to become perhaps the most notable. Both of his listed conglomerates -- Hutchison Whampoa and Cheung Kong Holdings -- have been able to benefit from the dramatic rise in Hong Kong real estate prices, which have grown over 75% in the past year. While this growth has benefited individuals like Li, it has also caused many to voice concerns. Recently, representatives from Hong Kong's government and prominent market commentators like Jim Rogers have expressed their fears that the city's real estate market is facing a bubble. Still, even with the criticism, Li does not appear fearful. In fact, over the past few months, the businessman has frequently increased his stakes in his own firms. In early January, when questioned about his purchases, the investor said he does not fear a housing bubble in Hong Kong. Rather, he expects to see continued strength in the Hong Kong housing market and, in order to benefit from that, in the future, he would keep increasing his stakes. Thanks to ETFs, investors today have the opportunity to follow Li's lead and play the Hong Kong real estate market. Currently two ETFs: the Claymore/AlphaShares China Real Estate ETF ( TAO) and the iShares MSCI Hong Kong Index Fund ( EWH), provide investors with exposure to a number of top properties players in the Hong Kong real estate industry like Li 's Cheung Kong and Hutchison Whampoa. While both of these funds should see strong gains prices continue to head higher, investors could be in for a gut-wrenching drop if Li is wrong and prices fall.
In order to avoid getting caught in such a dip, I have recommended on numerous occasions that when it comes to investing in China in 2010, investors should set their sights on the nation's small-caps. While funds like EWH and TAO may falter, the Claymore/AlphaShares China Small Cap ETF ( HAO) should show strong stable growth throughout the year. No matter how the story plays out in the Hong Kong real estate market, investors and non-investors alike can benefit from internalizing Li's lessons on the importance of hard work, dedication and prudence. -- Written by Don Dion in Williamstown, Mass.