Singapore

Offer for entire company preferred to minimise disruption: SPH

The board of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) wanted to minimise disruption to business operations once its media arm had been hived off - and the offer from Keppel ticked the most boxes.

SPH's preference was to seek an offer for the entire company, and it spoke to more than 20 potential bidders in the process.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, SPH chief financial officer Chua Hwee Song highlighted that one of the objectives of its strategic review was to avoid a "very chaotic period", which could arise after restrictions from the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act were lifted from SPH after its media business was hived off.

"In the end, the option which SPH landed on was to seek an offer for the whole SPH, so that a controlling shareholder can emerge."

Under the Act, which regulates print media in Singapore, each ordinary shareholder can generally not hold more than 5 per cent of a newspaper company's shares.

Replying to questions on the offers received, SPH chief executive Ng Yat Chung said: "I'm not able to provide more information about competing offers because of confidentiality agreements, but this is the best offer the SPH board has received."

Commenting on possible job cuts, Mr Ng noted that, in principle, every merger and acquisition deal has the possibility of rationalisation.

But in SPH's case, Keppel is buying over the company to build on areas that SPH is strong in, and that augurs well for employees, he added.

INTEGRATING

"In our discussions with them... they are fully committed to integrating SPH's personnel into the wider Keppel ecosystem and... my personal view is that with Keppel, the staff of SPH will have great opportunities for growth and career development in a much bigger ecosystem."

At a separate press conference yesterday, Keppel chief executive Loh Chin Hua said in response to a question on retrenchment after the potential SPH acquisition: "This is about coming together.

"It is an acquisition where we see a lot of value, especially in the SPH platform, such as the retail Reits (real estate investment trusts) and PBSA (purpose-built student accommodation) portfolio."

He added that Keppel looks forward to welcoming SPH staff to the firm's ecosystem and that it will have to form an integration committee "to look at some of these aspects later on".

BUSINESS & FINANCE