Hong Kong news group SCMP receives offer from buyer who wants to stay anonymous

Copies of the South China Morning Post newspaper displayed for sale.
Copies of the South China Morning Post newspaper displayed for sale.BLOOMBERG

THE SCMP Group, which publishes Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post, has announced that it has received a preliminary offer from a suitor to buy its media assets, confirming intense speculation that such talks are ongoing.

The items on the table include the newspaper, magazines and outdoor media, custom publishing and events businesses.

The company did not name the interested buyer, but various media reports have fingered mainland Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba.

In a staff message, portions of which was published in an online article by the SCMP late Wednesday (Nov 26) night, SCMP Group CEO Robin Hu said that discussions are at a very early stage and that the sale is subject to regulatory review and approval.

"(While) both parties will approach discussions in good faith, there is no guarantee such an outcome will ultimately materialise."

Sources told The Straits Times that board members were informed on Wednesday. A filing was made to the Hong Kong stock exchange to inform it of the offer.

The SCMP Group's director of marketing Michael Chu told The Straits Times that a financial advisor will be engaged "soon" to advise the company and its board.

"Importantly, we will work closely with the stock exchange and the regulators throughout the process."

He was unable to give a timeline as to when the negotiations could be completed but said it is subject to due diligence, regulatory and stock exchange approvals, and a shareholders' vote.

"The successful completion of these three cannot be ascertained at this moment."

He added that it was the choice of the suitor to remain anonymous at this point, "and we will respect their decision to do so".

In his note, Mr Hu said that "minimal disruption of the media business is expected" as the potential buyer would like to have continuity in the media business' operations.

He assured his staff: "We would also use our best endeavour to ensure the interest of the employees would be well taken care of."

Malaysian tycoon Robert Kuok, whose family owns the controlling shares in the public-listed company, had earlier told The Straits Times any potential sale of the newspaper is a purely business decision, rejecting suggestions that politics are part of the calculations.

China watchers believe that having Mr Ma, one of China's richest men, own the newspaper, will help Beijing tighten its control over Hong Kong.