Temasek profit drops

Peter Stein, Costas Paris & P.R. Venkat
The Wall Street Journal

Singapore’s state-owned investment firm Temasek Holdings Pte. Ltd. said Thursday it posted a 26% drop in net profit for the year ended March 31 on the back of weaker contributions from its portfolio companies, even as its portfolio rose 43% in value.

The divergence between profit and portfolio performance shows that the share price of many companies owned by Temasek did well as global capital chased returns in emerging markets, yet many had trouble making money in a tougher business environment that included higher fuel costs and weaker international trade.

Temasek owns controlling stakes in some of Singapore’s biggest corporations, including Singapore Airlines Ltd., shipping company Neptune Orient Lines Ltd. and PSA International Pte. Ltd., the world’s biggest operator of port facilities. It also owns significant chunks of other Asian companies that include two of China’s biggest banks, telecommunications conglomerate Shin Corp. and an Indian telecom operator. And it is the biggest shareholder in U.K.-based Standard Chartered PLC, with an 18% stake.

Chief Financial Officer Leong Wai Leng said some portfolio companies, including Neptune Orient and Singapore Airlines were “severely impacted” by the economic crisis.

Temasek said its net profit fell to 4.6 billion Singapore dollars (US$3.3 billion) from S$6.2 billion the year earlier. Its portfolio stood at S$186 billion as of March 31, nudging just above the S$185 billion it was valued at two years earlier after rebounding from huge losses in 2008 and early 2009. A sharp rise in global markets during the second quarter last year accounted for most of the recovery. Of the S$56 billion growth in the portfolio’s value last year, S$42 billion occurred in the four months to July 31, 2009.

Neptune Orient illustrates the split between profit and share price. The shipping firm, which is 66%-owned by Temasek, lost money for all of 2009 and in the quarter ended March due to a downturn in Asian exports. Yet in the 12 months to March 31, the company’s stock is up nearly 72% to S$2.01. Temasek invested in a rights issue the company conducted to boost its capital, giving it more upside exposure.

Over the year to March 31, Temasek made a net S$4 billion of new investments, much of it in energy and resources, where it continues to direct money. In May and June, it invested more than US$600 million in U.S. natural gas company Chesapeake Energy Corp. Energy and resources now account for about 7% of the companies investments, up from 5% a year earlier.

Other recent investments include US$200 million Temasek has invested in the initial public offering of Agricultural Bank of China. In May, Temasek also acquired a 5% stake in India’s National Stock Exchange for S$241 million.

Temasek warned that although the risks of a global economic meltdown have shrunk, “recovery remains fragile” and the European debt crisis is a reminder of structural imbalances that could threaten stability.

However, Temasek remains satisfied with its exposure to Asia, where about 80% of its investments are located.

“We continue to remain optimistic in Asia, and over the next 10 years we will likely increase our exposure,” said Jimmy Phoon, Temasek’s head of strategy. He said the state investor was also looking to increase its investments in Latin America in sectors like finance and agriculture.

Temasek sold off high-profile investments in Bank of America and Barclays PLC in late 2008 and early 2009 at a loss of nearly US$5.5 billion, according to people familiar with the situation.

“Some investments had not turned out as expected, while most other investments did well,” said Simon Israel, Temasek’s executive director. “Where we thought that risks were not acceptable, or when we had other better opportunities, we were ready to do what we thought was best for the long term despite any short-term pain,” he added.

About 20% of Temasek’s investments are in developed economies, with Australian investments by Singapore-based companies accounting for much of that total.

Mr. Israel also said that Temasek was looking at Mongolia and that its rich mining resources provided opportunities. Temasek and private-equity firm Hopu Investment Management Co. invested US$300 million last year in a Mongolian iron-ore mining company.

People familiar with the state investor’s operations said the quest to find a successor to Ho Ching, the current chief executive and wife of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, will begin in the fall. Temasek said in May that it will appoint former Singapore Exchange CEO Hsieh Fu Hua as its president starting in August. One of his main responsibilities will be to identify suitable candidates to replace Ms. Ho, according to those people. Mr. Israel said “every year our board looks at potential successor candidates,” and Mr. Hsieh’s “mandate is much broader” than that.

Ms. Ho didn’t attend the results briefing. Staff said she was traveling with the prime minister on official business in the U.S.

Historic plans for a foreigner to run Temasek it fell apart last year when the company, citing “strategic differences,” said Charles “Chip” W. Goodyear, formerly chief executive of mining giant BHP Billiton Ltd., would leave the company three months before he was scheduled to take the helm.

Temasek also offered an update about a new investment company it has set up with S$4 billion in start-up capital called Seatown Holdings. Mr. Israel said Seatown—which is being headed up by Charles Ong, Temasek’s former chief investment officer and chief strategist—would be “investing over a broader range of asset classes, with the ability to have a different geographic exposure” from the rest of Temasek.”

Temasek said it hopes to bring in sophisticated investors to co-invest with Seatown within three to five years, with a longer-term goal of bringing in retail investors after the company had gained more experience.

%d bloggers like this: