Two Chinese companies among bidders for M1: Sources

A woman with an umbrella passes an M1 sign in Singapore on April 7, 2017.
A woman with an umbrella passes an M1 sign in Singapore on April 7, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - 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) Singapore wireless carrier M1, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Shanxi Meijin Energy Co 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 Co and private equity funds have also made non-binding bids, the people said.

The potential sale of Singapore's third-largest carrier comes as the city-state prepares for the roll-out of a fourth mobile operator, with TPG Telecom slated to begin wireless services in 2018. 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 Bhd, Keppel Telecommunications & Transportation Ltd, and Singapore Press Holdings appointed Morgan Stanley to help explore options including a sale of the telecom operator, according to March filings.

M1 shares rose as much as 4.8 per cent in Singapore on Thursday (April 27), the biggest intraday gain in more than a month. They were trading 3.4 per cent higher at 10:39am, while the benchmark Straits Times Index was down 0.1 per cent.

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.

China Broadband, founded by 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 Inc. and Sequoia Capital China.

Representatives for Batelco, Meijin Energy and China Broadband Capital didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. Representatives for Axiata, Keppel and SPH declined to comment beyond their March filings about the strategic review.

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