SNP is keen on buying local companies as others steer clear of Hong Kong, China Singaporean publisher SNP Corp will launch a fresh buying spree in Hong Kong after snapping up four printing firms for about $500 million in the past 2 1/2 years. Bucking the trend by some international printers such as Jefferson Smurfit of Ireland and Japan-based Dai Nippon Printing of withdrawing from Hong Kong and the mainland, the Singapore-listed printing firm said it would spend another $500 million on new acquisitions. SNP chief executive Yeo Chee Tong said Hong Kong printers were the most suitable acquisition targets as they had established worldwide market positions and had good access to China. Hong Kong is a centre for outsourcing printing services, with total annual exports of printed matter of $10.53 billion. It ranks among the top three centres for the export of printed products in terms of value. At present, Hong Kong printers earned 70 per cent of their revenue from exporting and 30 per cent from the mainland, Mr Yeo said. He added SNP would use Hong Kong as a gateway to China. Last month, SNP announced its fourth deal in Hong Kong when it acquired a 56.42 per cent stake in Hong Kong-listed Leefung-Asco Printers Holdings for $323 million. The deal, in which SNP bought a 25.03 per cent stake from Jefferson Smurfit and 31.39 per cent from the family of chairman Peter Yang Sze-chen, was completed last Friday. SNP's other three Hong Kong acquisitions were Vite Financial, Excel (Hong Kong) and Panpac Hong Kong. SNP, which was founded as the government printing office of Singapore, was privatised in 1973 and is 55 per cent owned by Singapore Technologies. Since its restructuring in 1999, the year Mr Yeo joined as chief executive, the company has aggressively expanded in Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia. 'I don't think we are going to stop yet. We will look at candidates who are strong in Hong Kong and China,' he said. Printing investments in China at present are classified as a 'restricted' category for foreigners. That means overseas-incorporated companies investing in China are under certain restrictions. To better control the content of printed matter, the government requires all printing firms to secure specified operating permits for different types of printing. Some Hong Kong companies, which have a long and successful history of doing business in China, have already obtained operating permits for book and magazine printing. Charles Lo Chi-hong, managing director of Hong Kong's C and C Joint Printing, a unit of mainland-backed Sino United Publishing, said he believed foreign players would continue to use Hong Kong's printers as springboards into the vast and under-developed mainland market. Book and print consumption in the country was US$3 per head, far below the $300 in Germany and the $600 in Japan. The production value of book, periodical, newspaper and packaging printing amounted to US$16.19 billion last year. 'In the past one to two years, I have been approached by at least 10 international printers or institutions [looking] to take a stake in my company,' Mr Lo said. 'The trend will continue,' he said. Hong Kong-listed Midas International Holdings, which is controlled by investment firm Chuang's China Investments, has often been a buying target of foreign players, despite repeated denials by the company. Mr Yeo declined to comment if Midas was one of SNP's acquisition targets. SNP has established a South Asian hub in Singapore, where the group is incorporated, focusing on information-technology-driven products such as financial printing and data printing. Last year, the company posted a net profit of S$7.2 million (HK$32.08 million), a 32 per cent rise on the previous year.