Billionaire Salim’s Ventures Plan Regional Utility Growth

Philippine ventures of billionaire Anthoni Salim’s First Pacific Co. plan telecommunications, power and water investments in Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand to tap rising demand, Chief Executive Officer Manuel Pangilinan said.

“Myanmar has just opened its economy, Vietnam needs more power, and Thailand to a degree needs to build more power plants,” Pangilinan, 66, said in a March 6 interview at the headquarters of Manila Electric Co., one of his several offices in the Philippines. “It’s similar in terms of water, tollways and others.”

Manila Electric and Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., two of the biggest companies in First Pacific’s portfolio, operate in markets they lead and where growth may slow. The two companies generated almost 60 billion pesos ($1.5 billion) in free cash last year and have achieved a level of expertise they can export to neighbors, Pangilinan said.

“The economic axis has shifted to ASEAN,” said Roberto Juanchito Dispo, president at Manila-based First Metro Investment Corp., citing the consumer base of Association of Southeast Asian Nations and increased trade within the region. “This business move by First Pacific is strategic and opportunistic.”

PLDT rose 1.6 percent as of 2:18 p.m. in Philippine trading, while Manila Electric advanced 0.6 percent. The Philippine benchmark stock index increased 1.7 percent, set for a record close. First Pacific rose as much as 2.4 percent in Hong Kong trading.

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia’s economies are outpacing bigger nations in the Asia-Pacific region, with the exception of China, as policy makers take steps to bolster demand amid sluggish global expansion.

The Philippines’ $225 billion economy expanded 6.6 percent last year, higher than economists estimated, as government spending and consumption rose. Myanmar’s growth outlook has improved substantially amid political reforms which could lead to a large influx of foreign investment, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in November.

PLDT, the Philippines’ biggest telecommunications company, is in talks with several global competitors to make a joint bid for two Myanmar phone licenses, said Pangilinan, who is the carrier’s chairman.

Myanmar, where only 9 percent of the 64 million population has a mobile phone, seeks to boost coverage to as much as 80 percent by 2016. The license auction will be “hotly contested,” Pangilinan said.

Capacity Additions

Manila Electric plans to accelerate investments in the next three to five years and may boost capacity overseas to 1,500 megawatts, Pangilinan said. The nation’s largest power retailer, together with First Pacific, bought a 70 percent stake in a Singapore power venture of India’s GMR Group.

Manila Electric, which plans to build as much as 3,000 megawatts of generation capacity in the Philippines’ Luzon island, may boost dividend payout after a three-to-five-year “investment hump,” Pangilinan, chairman of the power company, said.

Profit guidance for Manila Electric will be released along with the first-quarter numbers and once the company has a better sense of the direction in economic growth, he said. The power company’s profit rose 29 percent in 2012 to 17 billion pesos, boosted by a 7 percent increase in sales to homes, factories and offices.

Pangilinan is also chairman of Metro Pacific Investments Corp., Philex Mining Corp., and Maynilad Water Services Inc.

Metro Pacific, which invests in industries including toll roads and hospitals, has a “war chest” of 25 billion pesos to fund its expansion, which includes bidding for an airport in the central Philippine province of Cebu, President Jose Lim told reporters in Manila today.