SPH focused on digitising its core media business

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Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) is focused on digitising its core media business while seeking cash-yielding property investments in defensive sectors, said chief executive Ng Yat Chung at the group's annual general meeting yesterday.

Mr Ng told around 440 investors at SPH News Centre: "You cannot cost-cut your way to prosperity."

He also discussed the thinking behind the firm's recent acquisitions.

One shareholder was concerned that SPH might be "late to the game" with its $321 million purchase of student accommodation buildings in Britain in September.

Mr Ng said the deal followed long deliberation.

"We knew that Brexit was coming and we wanted to find a sector that ... would still be viable, likely to grow," he said. "In fact, because of Brexit, there are deals to be done, people are willing to let go, they want to exit."

Another investor sought updates on the private nursing home Orange Valley SPH acquired last year.

Mr Ng said: "The market in Singapore is small, and the leases we have are not long, we will have to renew those leases. So when we talk about growing the aged-care space, we are looking beyond Singapore.

"We are working with developers in neighbouring countries. We can develop not just nursing homes, but retirement villages... In places like Australia, the retirement village as a lifestyle choice is very much a mature market."

Some shareholders suggested that SPH grow its media business by distributing more content overseas and monetising its rich trove of readership data.

Mr Ng said: "In fact, one of the main ideas behind our investments in digitalisation is precisely to help us understand the readers, what they read, how they read, so that we can deliver apps... We'll try to do it as quickly as we can."

Chairman Lee Boon Yang reiterated that SPH's core media business remains "very profitable", generating $92.8 million pre-tax profits in the year to August 31. - THE STRAITS TIMES