OCBC, affiliates reviewing options for stakes in UE

OCBC, its affiliates and the bank's founding Lee family own more than 30 per cent of UE - one of Singapore's oldest listed companies.
OCBC, its affiliates and the bank's founding Lee family own more than 30 per cent of UE - one of Singapore's oldest listed companies.PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

OCBC Bank and its insurance arm Great Eastern are reviewing "strategic options" for their stakes in property conglomerate United Engineers and subsidiary WBL Corp.

The bank said in a Singapore Exchange filing yesterday that "no decision has been made at this time to pursue any specific transaction or any other strategic option".

It added that there is no certainty the review will lead to any transaction or other options.

The filing confirmed a Bloomberg report yesterday which cited sources saying that the bank, its affiliates and the bank's founding Lee family are working with advisers to weigh the sale of their stakes.

The companies and the Lee family own more than 30 per cent of UE - one of Singapore's oldest listed companies.

It has built historic Singapore landmarks such as the former Supreme Court building and Cavenagh Bridge. Its more recent developments include Orchard Gateway, The Rochester and Rochester Mall at one-north, as well as its flagship building UE BizHub City.

Last year, talks between the bank and a firm controlled by Thai beer tycoon Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi and his wife Khunying Wanna fell through after the parties failed to agree on price.

OCBC chief executive Samuel Tsien said at the bank's annual general meeting last April that the bank is in "no hurry" to sell its stake in UE.

He said that "UE is considered a non-core investment of OCBC Bank. We are not in a hurry to dispose of this investment or to divest (ourselves of) it either."

UE, which has business units in manufacturing, engineering and property, has been selling its non-core assets, such as in agricultural seedling company Suzhou Speedling and printed circuit manufacturer Multi-Fineline Electronix.

It suffered lower revenues for the quarter ended June 30, posting $142.2 million, down from $263 million for the same period last year. Earnings for the same period fell 25 per cent to $8 million.

Its shares traded flat at $2.41 yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2016, with the headline 'OCBC, affiliates reviewing options for stakes in UE'. Print Edition | Subscribe