SPH looking at offers for Times Industrial - Dec 03, 2005 (ST)

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The Straits Times / The Business Times News On SPH

SPH looking at offers for Times Industrial

By Audrey Tan
Dec 03, 2005
The Straits Times

SINGAPORE Press Holdings (SPH) is seriously considering offers for its Times Industrial Building on Thomson Road, but it may be too early to make a decision on selling its Paragon shopping centre.

The media group will ensure it sells these non-core assets at the right time to maximise gains for shareholders, its outgoing chairman Lim Chin Beng said at its annual general meeting yesterday.

Times Industrial Building tops SPH's list of non-core assets to sell as it is one of the lowest-yielding properties.

'We've got many proposals and offers and we are looking at them,' he said.

But he also added that property prices are just starting to climb and SPH wants to strike at the 'perfect time' to maximise shareholders' returns. 'We will make sure that we don't lose out by selling too soon.'

Replying to a question on when SPH will sell its Paragon mall, he said the prime Orchard Road building is still yielding good returns.

'We want to spread out our goodies and not do everything at one go. But it is certainly something that the board is looking at,' he said.

With the latest government initiatives to revamp Orchard Road, it is also 'still early days' to make a decision on Paragon, SPH chief executive Alan Chan told reporters.

In the past two years, Paragon's value has risen from $1.2 billion to $1.38 billion, he noted. He said: 'We will make a decision at the appropriate time.'

Mr Lim said that over the past few years, SPH has made exceptional gains from selling non-core assets such as its stakes in StarHub and Belgacom, but its operating profits have also improved.

Asked if the company will return more money to shareholders, he said: 'Since 1999, we have returned $4 billion to shareholders so our record speaks for itself.'

But SPH still needs to maintain a 'war chest' for investment openings. 'You never know when opportunities will arise, so it's prudent to have a war chest in hand.'

SPH also raised the possibility that it will join a number of local firms that have done away with employee share options. 'We are studying various alternatives to share options,' Mr Lim said.

Companies such as Singapore Exchange and SingTel have recently switched to giving actual shares as rewards for good performance, after new rules kicked in this year requiring them to treat stock options as business expenses.

Performance shares are a more tangible way of rewarding employees, Mr Chan said in response to another question on such shares.

Stock options may not benefit employees if the company's share price falls below their exercise price, he added.

Shareholders at the AGM yesterday voted to re-appoint Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam, Mr Chan, Mr Lee Ek Tieng, Mr Sum Soon Lim and Dr Philip Pillai as directors.

Separately, SPH also said yesterday it has appointed Dr Yeo Ning Hong as a member of its audit committee.