SPH slows hiring, freezes senior staff pay - Dec 05, 2008 (BT)

BackDec 05, 2008

The Straits Times / The Business Times News On SPH

SPH slows hiring, freezes senior staff pay

But company will help staff keep jobs amid downturn, says chairman.

Dec 05, 2008
The Business Times

(SINGAPORE) Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), the media giant which also owns this newspaper, has slowed hiring and frozen pay for all senior management staff in a bid to control costs, chairman Tony Tan said yesterday at the company's annual general meeting.

But Dr Tan said that 'despite the economic downturn, we will continue to build up our businesses and products, help our people to keep their jobs and give back to society as a good corporate citizen'.

'In anticipation of the decline in the Singapore economy, SPH has since early this year taken measures to cope with the adverse economic circumstances. We have slowed down our hiring, instituted a pay freeze for all senior management staff, tightened our operations and strengthened our financial resources,' he said.

This has put SPH in good position to ride out the downturn, though it will be painful, Dr Tan said.

The company paid $333.1 million in staff costs in the year to Aug 31 - up 10.4 per cent from the previous year - and Dr Tan said that SPH will review its operations 'to ensure maximum efficiency, introduce additional cost management measures'.

Despite this, the poor economic outlook 'will inevitably have an impact on SPH's business', Dr Tan said.

'We do not know when the global economic storms will clear.' The Singapore economy 'is currently in a recession which is likely to last for several quarters', he said, and may undergo 'a prolonged period of below average growth through 2009 and possibly 2010 before hopefully improving in 2011'.

'Going forward, we will tread cautiously, manage our resources conservatively and be on the lookout for the appropriate business opportunities . . . Barring unforeseen circumstances, we expect to turn in a satisfactory performance overall in 2009.'

At the annual general meeting, a shareholder questioned the board over the impact of the deferred payment scheme on SPH's property project Sky@Eleven. Tony Mallek, executive vice-president, finance division, told shareholders that it was an 'imponderable' factor since the project will only receive its Temporary Occupation Permit (TOP) in 2010.

In a report released yesterday, OCBC Research analyst Kelly Chia said that he did not expect a high rate of defaults 'in view that it was pre-launched in Feb 07 to a select group of invited customers', adding: 'This was more than a year prior to the dizzying heights of the peak.'

Mr Chia maintained a 'buy' call but cut his earnings forecast for the next two years as the group's core printing business is likely to be hurt.