OCBC, GE evaluating offers for United Engineers

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN) - Shareholders keep mum on bids and parties involved; Perennial reportedly shortlisted.

OCBC Bank and its Great Eastern Holdings insurance arm are evaluating offers of interest from several parties for their stakes in property group United Engineers (UE) and WBL Corp, they announced yesterday.

One interested party is Perennial Real Estate Holdings, which disclosed yesterday that it had submitted a bid for UE as part of a consortium. Perennial divulged this after its shares jumped as much as 9.9 per cent yesterday morning, following a Bloomberg report late on Wednesday that it had been picked for final talks to buy UE.

The unusual trading frenzy prompted a query from the Singapore Exchange but the excitement abated somewhat after Perennial's reply was published and the counter ended the day at 90 cents, up 4.5 cents or 5.26 per cent, with 1.17 million shares changing hands.

In Singapore, Perennial has invested in and manages prime iconic properties located in the Civic District, Central Business District and Orchard Road precinct, such as Chijmes, AXA Tower, TripleOne Somerset and Chinatown Point.

OCBC shares gained seven cents or 0.67 per cent to close at $10.56 yesterday while Great Eastern (GE) rose 54 cents or 2.43 per cent to $22.75.

UE shares added 13 cents or 4.94 per cent to $2.76 and were up 7.8 per cent since the start of the year.

UE's largest shareholders have been exploring a stake sale since last September. In January, they hired Credit Suisse to help review their options. OCBC and GE did not specify how many bids they had received and from whom, saying only that they are in discussions with the bidding parties and there is no certainty that a transaction will materialise. But an agreement could be reached as soon as this month, Bloomberg said, citing sources.

It added that other final bidders, including private equity firm KKR & Co and Haiyi Holdings, the majority shareholder of SingHaiyi Group, had dropped out of the race.

It remains to be seen if others who reportedly made the shortlist in February - including Malaysian conglomerate Samling Group, Singapore government-owned development group Ascendas-Singbridge, as well as an investment vehicle of Malaysian tycoon Lee Ming Tee - are still in the running, or if any new names would appear.

UE is one of Singapore's oldest companies, with interests in property, engineering and distribution, technology and manufacturing. Its buyer would gain a property portfolio that includes Rochester Mall and UE BizHub City.

OCBC, GE and the bank's founding Lee family reportedly hold a combined 30 per cent stake in UE, which is valued at about $1.76 billion. The buyer of their stake would have to make a mandatory takeover offer for the rest of UE under Singapore rules.


No photos has been attached.