SPH explains property move; shareholders praise FY2009 results (BT)

BackDec 06, 2009

SINGAPORE Press Holdings (SPH) shareholders yesterday praised the media group for the creditable FY2009 financial results and the 25-cents-a-share dividend payment. They also sought further assurance from the company on its property foray.

At the SPH annual general meeting, shareholder Vincent Chen was concerned that the company's share price could be hurt should the market view it as a conglomerate with interests in many areas beyond its core newspaper business. He suggested that SPH focus on its core business and return cash to shareholders to invest in pure-play property counters.

SPH publishes 17 newspapers, including The Business Times, and more than 100 magazine titles. Beyond its media business, it also owns Paragon shopping mall in Orchard Road. A condominium project at Thomson Road is due to be completed in the middle of next year. And an SPH-led consortium recently won a bid for a prime mall building in Clementi.

Chief executive officer Alan Chan said that the mall project will buffer the company from the ups and downs of the media business. And chairman Tony Tan said that the bid is 'testament to SPH's willingness to seek new opportunities to increase shareholder value'.

In the fiscal year ended August 2009, SPH's newspaper and magazine sales dropped 12 per cent, but net profit of $422 million was just 3 per cent down, helped by higher contributions from property and pre-emptive measures to cut costs.

Mr Chan said that 50 cents of every dollar spent on advertising in Singapore goes to SPH, but the industry - especially in developed countries - is under great stress.

'Print (media) is something very close to our hearts and we will invest as much as possible to maintain that,' he said. But it is a 'very challenging' industry now, and the company will have to prepare for a time when the media business will no longer be as profitable. New property ventures give the company an opportunity to expand its areas of expertise, Mr Chan said.

Shareholders praised SPH management for guiding the company through a difficult year with profit more or less intact.

Dr Tan acknowledged the contributions of management and staff, who took pay cuts and stayed loyal to the company through the past year.

One shareholder asked the board on the absence of women in its ranks. 'Women bring a fresh perspective to things,' she said, noting that a woman on the board would not have supported the running of sexist advertisements. Dr Tan said that the board will consider the issue at its next meeting.