Malaysian conglomerate Malayan United Industries (MUI) has raised HK$1.34 billion after placing out a 15.15 per cent stake in newspaper publisher South China Morning Post (Holdings). MUI, the second biggest shareholder in SCMP (Holdings) after Robert Kuok's Kerry Group, said yesterday it had sold 262.28 million shares through stockbrokers and an agent since the beginning of the year in what it described as a 'strategic divestment'. It has retained 140.89 million shares, representing 8.14 per cent. 'The disposal will generate substantial cash for the group, which will be used to retire MUI Media's term loan of HK$713.46 million as well as to finance further strategic acquisitions in the near future,' the company said. Goldman Sachs is thought to be holding the stock before placing it out with institutional investors. No one from the US investment bank was available for comment last night. MUI said it had reaped a profit of M$135.3 million (about HK$285.62 million) arising from the share sale and said it expected the gains to have 'an appreciable impact' on its earnings per share this year. In the year to last December, MUI suffered a net loss of M$25.83 million compared with a profit of M$63.6 million in the previous year. Analysts were reluctant to speculate on whether the shares would be spread among many investors or sold in a single block to a strategic investor. 'I'm not aware of any new investor,' said one media analyst. The analyst said he had witnessed about 10 sales by MUI in batches worth between HK$8 million and $15 million in the past few months at prices ranging from $5.20 to $5.675. 'The [SCMP] share price has been reasonably strong since the October crash due to its strong cash position and dominant market share,' the analyst said, adding that this gave MUI an opportunity to sell down. MUI, controlled by Khoo Kay Peng, paid $1.03 billion, or $4.575 a share, to buy its original 15.1 per cent stake in SCMP (Holdings) from Rupert Murdoch's News Corp in 1994. Soon after it paid $343.1 million for 5 per cent, taking its stake to 20.58 per cent. Its purchases came in the wake of Mr Kuok's acquisition, through Kerry Media, of a 34.9 per cent stake from News Corp in 1993. Kerry Media now holds 34.25 per cent of the company. The biggest part of MUI's business is cement-making in Malaysia. Its interests also span property, construction, hotels, travel, trading, retail and media interests. SCMP shares closed yesterday at $5.25, down 3.67 per cent since the beginning of the year but up 19.31 per cent from their year low of $4.40 on January 12. The price peaked at $8.10 in July. 'The disposal is likely to create greater liquidity which is likely to be viewed as being of benefit to the share performance,' SCMP chief executive Owen Jonathan said. SCMP, which publishes the English-language South China Morning Post and other publications, was one of the less liquid stocks in the Hang Seng Index before it was removed from the index in January. In the year to June 30, 1997 it reported an attributable profit of HK$805.3 million. The consensus estimate among analysts for this full year is a figure of $830 million, according to this month's edition of The Estimate Directory.