Temasek profit falls record 66% as bank values drop

Joyce Koh

Temasek Holdings Pte, Singapore’s $122 billion state investment company, reported profit fell a record 66 percent as a collapse in credit markets drove down the value of its stakes in Bank of America Corp. and Barclays Plc.

Net income declined to S$6.2 billion ($4.4 billion) in the 12 months to March 31, down from a record S$18.2 billion a year earlier, Temasek said in its annual report today. The value of investments, which plunged S$55 billion in the period, has since rebounded to S$172 billion as of July 31.

The government-owned company sold its Bank of America and Barclays stakes at a loss as part of S$16 billion of divestments last fiscal year. Temasek, which in July aborted the appointment of Charles “Chip” Goodyear to replace Chief Executive Officer Ho Ching, has pledged to work more closely with companies in a portfolio that spans real estate to energy to telecommunications on at least four continents.

“Any investment company with a March ‘09 year-end will report terrible performance,” said Song Seng-Wun, an economist at CIMB-GK Securities Pte in Singapore. “The good news is that markets have rebounded sharply and if the current recovery is sustained into March 2010, we could well see Temasek reporting an 80 percent jump in net profit.”

The profit decline was deeper than the 44 percent drop in the MSCI World Index that wiped about $24 trillion from the value of global equities in the 12 months to the end of March. A measure of financial companies on the benchmark slumped 57 percent after the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in September last year froze credit markets.

Portfolio recovery

“We have been building up our liquidity methodically over the last two years with a net cash position as we were mindful of a possible downturn,” Ho, 56, said in a statement today. “However, we did not anticipate the speed and ferocity of the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression.”

The value of Temasek’s investments fell 30 percent to S$130 billion in the year to March 31, the company said. As of July 31, the value of holdings recovered to S$172 billion, 7 percent below the March 2008 peak of S$185 billion, according to the report. The MSCI World Index has risen 66 percent since a March low on speculation the worst of the global recession has passed.

The 30 percent drop in “total shareholder return” beat the 36 percent decline in the MSCI World Index in the 12 months to the end of March, Temasek said.

Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, Europe’s largest, lost a record 633 billion kroner ($108 billion) in 2008 as investments dropped 23 percent.

Asian focus

Temasek has had an annual return of 16 percent since its inception in 1974, according to the report, down from 18 percent annualized it reported August 2008.

Ho said Temasek will continue to focus on Asia. As of March 31, 31 percent of the company’s investments were in Singapore, 43 percent in the rest of Asia, 22 percent in nations within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and 4 percent in Latin America.

“We believe the worst of the global meltdown risks are behind us,” Ho, who is also the wife of Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, said in prepared remarks at a briefing today. “While there are some green shoots of growth, some structural risks still remain for the medium term. The global economy is expected to have a sluggish recovery in 2010.”

Bank stakes

Temasek has slowed investments after losing money on financial companies. Along with Kuwait Investment Authority and China Investment Corp., Temasek was among sovereign funds that helped struggling U.S. investment banks replenish capital.

The company invested S$9 billion in the period, down from S$32 billion the year before. Of that, S$3 billion was in rights offerings by companies in its portfolio, including London-based Standard Chartered Plc and Singapore’s DBS Group Holdings Ltd. and CapitaLand Ltd.

The state-owned investment company, set up to foster the development of Singapore’s banks, airlines and ports, is the biggest shareholder in five of Singapore’s 10 biggest publicly traded companies by market value including Singapore Telecommunications Ltd., Southeast Asia’s biggest phone company, and DBS, the region’s largest bank by assets.

It held 68 percent of PT Bank Danamon Indonesia, 6 percent of China Construction Bank Corp., 8 percent of India’s ICICI Bank Ltd. and 19 percent of Standard Chartered as of March 31, according to the report. Financial firms now make up 33 percent of Temasek’s portfolio, down from 40 percent.

“We are open to investing in financial institutions if and when the right opportunity comes, if and when the right valuations come,” Ho said at the briefing.

Bank of America, Barclays

In the first quarter this year, Temasek sold its 3.8 percent stake in Bank of America, which it received after the bank bought Merrill Lynch & Co., at a loss that may have totaled $4.6 billion. It also sold its 2 percent stake in London-based Barclays.

The company didn’t detail the size of those losses in its annual report. Shares of Bank of America have climbed 23 percent this year, after a 66 percent slide in 2008, while Barclays is up 148 percent, following a 69 percent plunge last year.

“Like every fund manager, they took their lumps,” said David Cohen, an economist at Action Economics in Singapore, before the announcement. “They will be able to talk about a rebound; after all, the past six months have seen a strong rebound in global equities.”

Cash position

Temasek, wholly owned by Singapore’s Ministry of Finance, also is paring investments at home. This month, it agreed to sell its 62 percent stake in Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing Ltd., the world’s third-biggest maker of customized semiconductors, to Abu Dhabi for S$2.5 billion, ending a 22-year investment in the unprofitable firm.

“We are in a very good net cash position and if market values fall, it could be a very good time to invest,” Ho said.

Sovereign wealth fund total assets declined by almost 17 percent to $3 trillion from the end of 2007 to this year, Deutsche Bank AG said in a report in July.

Losses have prompted management changes at government-owned funds. Norges Bank Investment Management, which oversees Government Pension Fund – Global, appointed a new team of executives after its record loss last year wiped out gains from 12 years of investing Norway’s oil and gas revenue.

Dubai investment firm Istithmar World may be the first sovereign wealth fund to liquidate after a $27 billion spending spree financed largely with borrowed money, people briefed on the matter said last week. Its two co-chief investment officers are leaving the fund.

Temasek and Goodyear, the former BHP Billiton Ltd. head tapped in February to become the investment firm’s first foreign chief executive, agreed in July to part ways over “strategic differences.”

Temasek is looking at both internal and external candidates as the process to find a replacement continues, Ho said today.


%d bloggers like this: