SingTel chief tackles vultures

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2001, 12:00am

Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel) has tried to inject fresh vigour into its bid for Cable & Wireless Optus, saying the deal made commercial sense while dubbing arbitrage traders who had contributed to selling pressure against its stock as 'vultures'.

SingTel president and chief executive officer Lee Hsien Yang said the markets' poor reaction to the proposed tie-up had obscured the inherent value of the move, which was unveiled last week.

'I think that a lot of attention has been focused on the stock market and it is easy to forget that beneath the whole transaction is Optus, a highly successful company in Australia,' Mr Lee said.

He added later: 'Traders are like vultures. They will do what they will do.'

The comments form part of an intense lobbying effort by SingTel executives to convince institutional investors of the deal's wisdom.

Since it was announced, SingTel shares have slumped by about 25 per cent.

They dropped again yesterday, touching a low of S$1.74, before closing the session at S$1.84.

Analysts say the slump has been driven by investors who fear SingTel may be overpaying for Australia's second-largest telecommunications company and the volume of new paper that could be issued in part payment for Optus shares.

Additional selling pressure in Singapore has come from arbitrage traders off-loading SingTel stock to exploit potential gains from pricing gaps between those shares and stock in the target company.

Mr Lee said arbitrageurs had to consider the risk that the deal may falter.

'Arbitrage was not created by the structure [of the deal], arbitrage was created by the market's reaction,' Mr Lee said.

'But then there's the cost of borrowing SingTel shares, and there are transaction costs involved, and there are risks involved because we have to see whether or not the transaction does go through. And clearly at this point in time there are transaction risks.'

SingTel is offering Optus shareholders three options for their stakes, all of which involve the issue of some SingTel shares.

When announced, the trio of offers valued Optus at between A$14.9 billion (about HK$56 billion) and A$16 billion.

Given the sell-off, analysts say the upper end of the three offers is worth about A$14 billion.

Mr Lee suggested the terms of the offer would not be revised in light of the sell-off, but could not rule out such a change.

'I don't understand the basis of such [revision] rumours . . . we are not here to announce any new offers,' he said.

He was joined yesterday by the chief executive of Optus, Chris Anderson.

'Optus is a great growth company,' Mr Anderson said. 'We've done 20 per cent compound annual growth over the past four years.'

Mr Lee will take his case to Australia from today, with a three-day visit to meet Optus shareholders and the country's media face to face.