Property firms' trading halts spark speculation over Wee Cho Yaw's holdings

The facade of the United Overseas Bank (UOB) building. Three companies substantially owned by UOB chairman Wee Cho Yaw called for a trading halt on Wednesday (June 21).
The facade of the United Overseas Bank (UOB) building. Three companies substantially owned by UOB chairman Wee Cho Yaw called for a trading halt on Wednesday (June 21).PHOTO: THE BUSINESS TIMES

SINGAPORE - Three property companies that are substantially owned by veteran banker Wee Cho Yaw called for a trading halt on Wednesday, sparking speculation that the tycoon may be about to restructure his real estate holdings.

The halt pending an announcement affects UOL Group, its associate United Industrial Corp (UIC) and investment holding company Haw Par Corp.

Speculation of potential privatisation has driven up prices of all three counters since the end of last month. UOL jumped 11.8 per cent to $7.68, UIC rose 5.5 per cent to $3.28 and Haw Par climbed 4.4 per cent to $11.31.

There is unsubstantiated talk that UIC may be delisted if Mr Wee can buy out the stake of Philippine tycoon John Gokongwei.

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Mr Wee and Mr Gokongwei had previously attempted to take over UIC and each other's stakes in 2005 and in 2009, but both attempts failed.

Depending on how a possible deal shakes out, analysts say it could be good for local property counters, which are undervalued.

"The Wee family have been hinting in the past year, through their acquisitions of land and property- related assets, that they view the property market to be heading up. This could lead to further upward revisions of local property developers with land banks in Singapore," an analyst said.

Under the stock exchange rules, listed companies have up to three days to make an announcement following a trading halt.