Datapulse's payout plan seen as bid to win over small investors

A tech firm embroiled in an investor revolt is proposing a cash payout to distribute gains from a property sale, but some have slammed the move as a bid to win over minority shareholders before two key meetings.

Datapulse Technology has proposed the one cent per share special dividend once the $53.5 million sale of its headquarters is closed.

The digital storage maker is also under attack from some shareholders who want to oust the newly appointed board members.

Some market watchers reckon the proposed special dividend could be a sweetener to win over minority shareholders before they vote at two fast-approaching special meetings to kick out four directors and endorse the board's controversial diversification plan.

"They (the board) want to sway the minorities to support the board and its diversification plan, but the small amount of $2.2 million versus the sale proceeds does nothing to address concerns about shareholder value," said governance hawk Mak Yuen Teen of NUS Business School.

"It's a simplistic strategy to try to convey to shareholders and the Singapore Exchange that they are doing the right thing."

Datapulse said yesterday that the planned special dividend will follow the disposal of the property in Tai Seng Drive that is expected to raise net proceeds of $52.9 million and a gain of $44.6 million.

"The disposal... and proposed dividend are part of a broader strategy to... explore other business opportunities to enhance shareholder value," said Datapulse chairman Low Beng Tin in a statement.

This disposal was approved by shareholders last September, two months before a sudden ownership change at Datapulse after co-founder and former executive director Ng Cheow Chye sold his 29 per cent stake to Ms Ng Siew Hong at a premium to the market price.

Drama has dogged the company since these unexpected changes.

SIMPLISTIC STRATEGY

It's a simplistic strategy to try to convey to shareholders and the Singapore Exchange that they are doing the right thing.

PROFESSOR MAK YUEN TEEN, of NUS Business School.

The board was revamped with four new directors, including the chief executive, after three independent directors stepped down last month.

Very soon after that, Datapulse said it was buying Wayco Manufacturing - a Malaysian firm that makes haircare, cosmetics and other homecare chemical products - for $3.5 million without having done due diligence on the asset.

Then on Dec 26, Ms Ng Bie Tjin and Uniseraya Holdings, with a combined 16 per cent stake, served a requisition notice to convene an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) to replace the new directors and to deter any diversification plan until it has been closely reviewed and blessed by shareholders.

Ms Ng Bie Tjin, who quit her finance director post at Datapulse three years ago, is the daughter of the firm's other co-founder and former chairman, Mr Ng Khim Guan.

Datapulse is also calling for an EGM for shareholders to back its plan to move into new businesses in the property, investment and consumer space.

The speed at which these events have unfolded has baffled minority shareholders and onlookers.

There are also concerns over the appointment of certain directors as well as their past links to the recent transaction involving Wayco.

The two shareholder meetings are to be held by Feb 26.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2018, with the headline 'Datapulse's payout plan seen as bid to win over small investors'. Print Edition | Subscribe