Temasek tells U.S. its goals are commercial

Saeed Azhar
6 Mar 08

Singapore state investor Temasek, trying to soothe Western concerns over investments by Asian and Middle Eastern government funds, has told the United States its intentions are commercial and aimed at maximizing long-term returns.

Trumpeting close military and commercial ties between Singapore and the United States, a senior Temasek Holdings executive told a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee that it supports the aim of U.S. lawmakers to maintain the right balance between national security and investment flows.

“As Temasek grows and increasingly diversifies its global portfolio, it is mindful that its success has been rooted in the commercial principles and strong governance which has served it well,” said Temasek’s Executive Director Simon Israel in his testimony late on Wednesday. A transcript of his remarks was released on Temasek’s Web site on Thursday.

“Temasek fully appreciates and supports the Congress’s goal to maintain the right balance in protecting national security in ways that continue the traditional welcoming attitude of the United States toward foreign investment.”

The testimony came amid growing concerns in the West that foreign governments might be investing for political rather than financial gain, and might someday use those stakes to advance their own national interest.

Sovereign wealth funds such as Temasek and the Government of Singapore Investment Corp (GIC) have invested in some of America’s biggest banks, including Citigroup and Merrill Lynch, who sought billions of dollars after suffering huge losses tied to risky subprime mortgages.

These funds, many of which are in emerging market countries in the Middle East as well as Russia and China, have been bolstered by rampant oil prices and large U.S. trade deficits. These factors have accelerated the accumulation of assets abroad that are being reinvested back into the United States.

Israel said nearly 80 percent of Temasek’s $110 billion global portfolio comprises investments in Singapore and Asia.

“Developed markets such as the United States and Europe are a long-standing and growing part of our portfolio,” he said.

He said Temasek’s $4.4 billion investment in Merrill in December was only the latest financial linkage with Singapore, a “trusted friend” of the U.S., its 15th-largest trading partner and “active in operations to reconstruct Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Other Temasek investments include startup companies in Silicon Valley and ownership of Virginia-based defense technologies supplier VT Systems through its 50-percent ownership of ST Engineering, he said, adding it does not get involved in the day-to-day operations of such firms.

Israel, a New Zealander, said Temasek does not discuss its investments with the Singapore government, and also highlighted that 40 percent of its senior management team are non-Singaporeans.

Temasek is headed by Ho Ching, the wife of Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, and its sole shareholder is the Ministry of Finance. Singapore’s bigger and more secretive wealth fund GIC is headed by the prime minister’s father, Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Singapore’s wealth funds are also taking part in global talks to draft rules to oversee the behavior of state funds without discouraging them from investing in the United States at a time of global financial turmoil.

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