First Pacific Co. Ltd. is considering expanding control of Manila Electric Co. (MER) by buying San Miguel Corp.’s stake in the Philippines’ largest power distributor, said Chief Executive Officer Manuel V. Pangilinan.
“We’re still thinking about it,” Pangilinan said in an interview in Manila today, when asked whether his group could buy the 32.8 percent stake that San Miguel (SMC) is selling. “It actually depends on the price.”
San Miguel President Ramon Ang said yesterday finding a buyer for the block he valued at $3.5 billion may be difficult and that the company is willing to sell its 370 million shares in the utility known as Meralco in parts. By buying the stake, First Pacific would cement control of the utility, in which it already owns 48.3 percent through Beacon Electric Asset Holdings, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“Buying more shares is indeed very tempting for Pangilinan,” said Astro del Castillo, managing director at First Grade Holdings Inc. in Manila. “Meralco is value for money given the revenue it generates as a monopoly and the potential for growth and expansion.”
Meralco distributes power to a quarter of the Philippine population in an area that accounts for half of its gross domestic product, according to its website. The company is expanding into power generation locally and has ventures in Singapore and Nigeria.
For San Miguel, selling the stake would allow it to profit from an investment at almost four times the purchase cost and help it fund its diversification away from the food and drinks business. Its Meralco stake is worth 127.7 billion pesos ($3 billion), based on yesterday’s closing prices.
Most of San Miguel’s shares in Meralco were bought at 90 pesos apiece in 2008, or 26 percent of their current worth.
“Many interested parties have inquired,” Ang said in Manila yesterday after the company’s annual meeting. “Because of the size, the shares can’t be sold easily.”
Recent declines in the Philippine stock market may pose another challenge to a sale. The Philippine Stock Exchange (PCOMP) Index dropped 4.6 percent in Manila yesterday, its sharpest loss since Sept. 23, 2011. It has retreated more than 11 percent from a record close on May 15.
San Miguel fell 2.1 percent to 95 pesos yesterday. The shares have fallen 9.9 percent this year against the benchmark stock index’s 13 percent gain. Manila Electric fell 6.5 percent to 345 pesos, the most since May 16, 2012. Financial markets are shut today for Philippine independence day.
Citigroup Inc., Deutsche Bank AG, Standard Chartered Plc and UBS AG are helping with the Meralco sale process, said three people with knowledge of the matter. The deal could be the third biggest in the Philippines, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
San Miguel, which started as a brewer more than a century ago, is seeking to boost revenue to $50 billion in five years. Sales climbed 30 percent to 698.9 billion pesos, or $16.2 billion, in 2012, missing its target of $20 billion. Energy accounted for 60 percent of sales, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
San Miguel plans to buy oil and gas fields that can produce 1 million barrels a day, Ang said on March 6. The company owns most of Petron Corp. (PCOR), the Philippines’ largest oil refiner and its biggest electricity producer through unit SMC Global Power Holdings Corp.
San Miguel may raise at least $150 million selling 10 percent to 15 percent of SMC Global Power this year through an initial public offering, Ang said yesterday. Eventually, San Miguel may sell as much as 49 percent of the venture depending on market conditions, he said.
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