September 26, 2018 / 1:44 PM / a year ago

UPDATE 1-Keppel, SPH look to up stake in Singapore telco M1 -sources

(Recasts story with comments from sources)

By Anshuman Daga and Liz Lee

KUALA LUMPUR/SINGAPORE, Sept 26 (Reuters) - Keppel Corporation Ltd (KCL) and Singapore Press Holdings Ltd (SPH) are looking to buy out Axiata Group Bhd’s stake in Singapore’s smallest mobile network operator M1 Ltd, sources familiar with the situation said on Wednesday.

Axiata is M1’s largest shareholder with a 28.3 percent stake, while Keppel owns about 19.7 percent through a unit, and SPH owns about 13.3 percent.

Axiata said on Wednesday that it is reviewing its stake in the telecoms company.

“Axiata expects KCL and SPH to reflect M1’s future value and incorporate acceptable control premium in their proposed transaction,” it said in a statement.

Conglomerate Keppel said this week that it was, along with SPH, considering a transaction regarding its holdings in M1.

Sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday that Keppel and SPH were looking to increase their stakes in M1 and buy out Axiata’s stake. The sources declined to be identified as they were not authorised to talk about the matter.

The sources said Axiata was also open to teaming up with overseas partners to buy out Keppel and SPH’s stakes if a potential offer from Keppel and SPH did not meet its expectations.

When contacted, a spokeswoman from Keppel said the company will make further announcements if and when there are material developments, while SPH did not immediately respond.

In July 2017, Axiata, Keppel and SPH considered, and then called off, a strategic review of their M1 shareholding, which sources said was due to a lower-than-expected offer from external parties.

Mobile telecoms competition is heating up in Singapore, with Australia’s TPG Telecom seeking to launch a new service after winning a license to become the city-state’s fourth telecom operator. M1 is considered to be the most vulnerable to new competition.

Axiata said it is in discussions to appoint an advisor with a financial institution that would “review various options available to Axiata with the sole objective that the company continues to vigorously protect and enhance shareholders’ value of both Axiata and M1”.

Shares in Axiata closed 4.2 percent higher on Wednesday.

Trading of M1 shares has been suspended since Monday but the stock has fallen close to 10 percent over the past 12 months, and 59 percent from its record high of S$3.99 in February 2015 to S$1.63 on Monday.

Reporting by Liz Lee in KUALA LUMPUR and Anshuman Daga in SINGAPORE; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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