Asset trader turns up the heat in bid for NatSteel

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 December, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 December, 2002, 12:00am

Asset trader Oei Hong Leong turned up the heat in his battle with the Singapore establishment for control of NatSteel yesterday by becoming a larger shareholder than his state-backed rival.

Mr Oei jacked up his stake in the steelmiller to 29.3 per cent yesterday, marking a rare challenge to accepted practice that the government maintain unfettered control over the ownership of strategic assets.

Mr Oei's purchase - at S$2.05 a share - raised his stake in NatSteel above the estimated 25 per cent of the shares held by 98 Holdings, a consortium led by prominent hotelier Ong Beng Seng and backed by the company's management and the government's investment unit, Temasek.

The latest foray - which cost S$35 million (HK$154.5 million) - came less than 48 hours before shareholders are due to decide tomorrow whether they will accept a S$2.03-a-share offer from 98 Holdings.

The move makes it almost certain that the initial deadline for the 98 Holdings offer will be extended to December 23, the latest date allowed under the local takeover code.

Analysts said yesterday's aggressive market move may also presage a general offer for NatSteel from Mr Oei, a scion of Indonesia's powerful Widjaja family, which controls the troubled but extensive Sinar Mas Group.

In previous market disclosures, Mr Oei has said that his bid vehicle, Sanion Enterprises, is involved in talks with three financial groups about funding.

The increasingly heated takeover struggle has transfixed the financial community in Singapore, which is largely unaccustomed to such bare-knuckle corporate showdowns.

Shareholders' and observers' interest in the takeover battle has been fired by Mr Oei's apparent consistent willingness to challenge some of the country's most powerful corporate players.