SPH committed to finding new revenue sources, says chairman

Meeting shareholders at the SPH annual general meeting yesterday were (from left) company secretary Ginney Lim, English/Malay/Tamil Media group editor-in-chief Patrick Daniel (partially hidden), chairman Lee Boon Yang, chief financial officer Tony Ma
Meeting shareholders at the SPH annual general meeting yesterday were (from left) company secretary Ginney Lim, English/Malay/Tamil Media group editor-in-chief Patrick Daniel (partially hidden), chairman Lee Boon Yang, chief financial officer Tony Mallek and chief executive Alan Chan.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Firm will keep looking for opportunities in core media business and in related fields

Media group Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) is committed to finding new revenue sources to reverse the trend of declining profits, said chairman Lee Boon Yang at its annual general meeting yesterday.

Dr Lee told around 720 investors that the firm will continue to look for opportunities in the core newspaper business as well as in digital media and related businesses such as property. He noted that SPH had made a bid for a mixed development property project in Paya Lebar earlier this year.

Although the bid was unsuccessful, the company has sufficient resources for such new projects.

Dr Lee added that SPH's property business has made healthy contributions to revenue and earnings.

SPH chief executive Alan Chan noted at the meeting that the company has a "war chest" of $1.2 billion to invest in new projects. With a gearing ratio of 35 per cent, it also has the borrowing capacity to fund new acquisitions that will contribute to sustainable growth.

SPH's net profit fell 20.4 per cent to $321.7 million for the year ended Aug 31.

It earlier declared a final dividend of 13 cents per share, comprising a normal dividend of eight cents and a special dividend of five cents. The total dividend payout for the 2015 financial year is 20 cents, a shade below the 21 cents of the previous year.

One shareholder observed that SPH seems to have made only "small and organic" investments in new media businesses.

Dr Lee said the company prefers to be "measured, calculated and cautious" in making investments. For now, it is focusing on nurturing the acquisitions so that they will make healthy contributions in the long term.

He cited Streetsine, a property analytics company that has merged with STProperty to provide users with information on property-related transactions. SPH is looking at helping Streetsine expand in the region.

Also, SPH's latest Plug and Play incubator programme will help to identify digital media companies with potential and nurture them into strong and sustainable businesses across media sectors.

"We hope to grow some of them into big companies (with high valuation)," he said, adding that "the prospects are there and we're working hard to get them there".

Mr Chan noted that SPH had made a $50 million profit by selling a "fraction" of its stake in the regional classifieds portal ST701 in the financial year ended Aug 31, 2014.

While SPH is actively looking at investing in "a whole range of investments", it also needs to evaluate each one carefully, said Dr Lee.

"A growing sector doesn't mean everyone can jump in," said Dr Lee in response to a shareholder's question on whether SPH plans to invest in data centres.

"We have not ventured into this area at the moment, but we will not rule the possibilities out. If something turns out to be promising, we won't let it go by."

The 2 ½-hour meeting was held at SPH's News Centre premises in Toa Payoh North.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2015, with the headline 'SPH committed to finding new revenue sources, says chairman'. Print Edition | Subscribe