China coal miner 'among bidders for M1'

The potential sale of M1 comes as Singapore prepares for the roll-out of a fourth mobile operator.
The potential sale of M1 comes as Singapore prepares for the roll-out of a fourth mobile operator. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • A coal producer based in China's Shanxi province and China Broadband Capital are among bidders for US$1.4 billion (S$1.95 billion) wireless carrier M1, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Shanxi Meijin Energy and China Broadband have separately submitted first-round offers, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are confidential.

Bahrain Telecommunications and private equity funds have also made non-binding bids, said the people.

The potential sale of Singapore's third-largest carrier comes as the nation prepares for the roll-out of a fourth mobile operator, with TPG Telecom slated to begin wireless services next year. The regulator has said it wants to introduce more competition in Singapore to bring down phone bills and improve services.

M1's largest owners, Axiata Group, Keppel Telecommunications & Transportation and Singapore Press Holdings, appointed Morgan Stanley to help explore options, including a sale of the telecom operator, according to filings last month.

Axiata has a 29 per cent stake in M1, while Keppel has a 19 per cent holding and Singapore Press owns 13 per cent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

M1 shares rose as much as 4.8 per cent in Singapore yesterday, the biggest intraday gain in more than a month. They were trading 3.8 per cent higher at 4.23pm, while the benchmark Straits Times Index was roughly unchanged.

New Fund Meijin Energy, based in Taiyuan, China, is pursuing a transaction alongside a family office, one of the people said. The coal miner is considering the purchase even as acquisitive Chinese companies grapple with stricter capital controls aimed at slowing the pace of offshore deals and keeping the yuan in check.

The company is setting up a 1-billion-yuan (S$202.6 million) fund in partnership with Chinese actor Chen Kun to invest in Internet communications, high-tech hardware manufacturing, new energy and the consumer industry, according to a Shenzhen stock exchange filing on Wednesday.

China Broadband, founded by Mr Edward Tian, would seek to partner with other financial investors on a deal for Singapore's smallest mobile operator, the person said. The Beijing-based firm typically invests in telecom and technology companies based in or focusing on China, including a 2015 partnership with Airbnb and Sequoia Capital China.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2017, with the headline 'China coal miner 'among bidders for M1''. Print Edition | Subscribe