Property firm Cedar Strategic starts anew on road to growth

Mr Tan believes grim days are over for Cedar Strategic, and it is now focusing on growing its income.
Mr Tan believes grim days are over for Cedar Strategic, and it is now focusing on growing its income.ST PHOTO: TAMARA CRAIU

Real estate firm Cedar Strategic is slowly getting back on track as it emerges from debilitating governance issues and failing businesses.

Having cleaned up its internal mess, the Catalist-listed firm plans to grow its once depleted earnings and capital with a view to the resumption in trading of its shares - suspended since April last year.

Earlier this month, the company announced it was back in the black with a 7 million yuan (S$1.5 million) net profit for 2015, a sharp reversal from 2014's 252.9 million yuan loss.

In June last year, Mr Tan Thiam Hee took over as the firm's chief executive along with a new management team.

Mr Tan told The Straits Times the firm had next to no money at that stage. "For the first few weeks after I came in, I was in shock. While we expected the company to at least have some cash to stay afloat, it actually had only $200,000.

"Half of that money was with banks that we had difficulty getting recognition from because of the drama at the company."

Cedar faced scrutiny last year after it sold its shares in China's property venture Trechance in February as the investment had failed to gain traction. Share trading was suspended in April, as the firm's internal difficulties came to the fore.

A special audit, commissioned by the new management and completed in November, revealed several lapses including the failure to collect divestment proceeds, missing funds and overpayment to some former directors.

The audit came after a group of fed-up shareholders, led by ACH Investments founding partner Christopher Chong, got together and toppled the former board at an extraordinary general meeting in June.

Mr Tan, who has held key finance positions at firms including Haw Par and ASL Marine, was appointed to restructure the company.

"We could not even find any functional business that the company had to generate income and service our liability. The special audit was our first key move, but we also had to quickly do share placement to bring in some $2 million to tide us over," he said.

Mr Tan believes those grim days are over, and the firm is now focusing on growing its income.

Cedar bought 60 per cent of Daya Bay - essentially its first money- making asset since the restructuring - in November. The coastal property project in Huizhou, Guangdong, has 1,099 units, of which 700 are for sale. The rest are for rent, mainly to domestic tourists.

"As at December, about 70 per cent of the for-sale units have been sold. We chose Daya Bay out of around 12 possible investment targets because it offers a mix of property sales and recurrent rental income," Mr Tan said.

In the two months after the acquisition, Daya Bay gave Cedar 26.3 million yuan in maiden revenue contribution to 2015's earnings.

Shareholders can expect more such deals, Mr Tan said.

"Given the company's current state, we are not fit to aim for greenfield project investments. We need smaller and ready-made ventures that have low risks but give us immediate profit and cash flow.

"We will continue to look at niche projects like Daya Bay, focusing on emerging cities not just in China but also in Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia," he said.

Meanwhile, capital-raising continues at Cedar, which announced on Tuesday a share placement exercise to raise $1.4 million from Luo Shandong, the chairman of Hunan Toener Investment.

As Cedar slowly picks itself up, Mr Tan and his team hope to see the company's shares resume trading. But he acknowledged that the decision is out of his hands.

"As far as Cedar's board and management are concerned, I think we have done everything we can do at this stage. Now it's left to the authorities to decide whether they feel the same," Mr Tan said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2016, with the headline 'Property firm Cedar Strategic starts anew on road to growth'. Print Edition | Subscribe