Hot property

Jan 20, 2009
<p>Reporting from the IR Magazine South East Asia Awards</p>

Despite the problems that have besieged the world’s banking and real estate companies, these two sectors all but cleaned up at this year’s IR Magazine South East Asia Awards, winning 10 out of 16 categories.

United Overseas Bank and Frasers Commercial Trust (FCOT) scooped the grand prix awards for large firms and small or mid-cap firms, respectively. Singapore’s CapitaMall Trust CEO Pua Seck Guan won best IR by a CEO and Asia-focused bank DBS Group won best IR website.

The two sectors further dominated the country awards: best IR in the Singapore market by a PRC company went to Bank of China and best IR by an Indonesian company was picked up by Bank Mandiri.

Jimmy Koh, head of IR and research at United Overseas Bank, attributes his team’s success to his bank’s financial prudence as well as its high regard for shareholders.

‘We are open and transparent and we like to encourage shareholders to drop in whenever they are able,’ he explains. ‘We see our investors as partners, helping us to move the organization forward over the long term.’

In the troubled property sector, FCOT (formerly Allco Commercial REIT) witnessed a watershed year as it morphed from a unit of beleaguered Australian asset manager Allco Finance Group into its current state. Despite the jittery conditions, investors praised FCOT’s ‘useful and transparent information’ and its ‘presentation of the financials’.

Another property winner was Philippine firm Ayala Land. Alfonso Reyes, head of investor relations at the Manila-based company, thinks the firm owes its IR success to constant communication. ‘Regardless of the state of the markets, we always ensure we engage our investor base actively by going on the road, attending conferences and providing quarterly briefings,’ he points out.

Reyes and his team visit New York and London twice a year and Hong Kong and Singapore two to three times a year, which could go some way to explaining their success in the Singaporean market. It hasn’t been an easy ride for Ayala, however. Despite relatively strong balance sheets and a lack of leverage, the share price has suffered.

‘From a stock market perspective, we have been hit pretty hard,’ Reyes admits. ‘The Philippine index is down 62 percent year to date, and our share price is down 59 percent over the same period.’

Despite the gloomy figures, however, Reyes says this is a better performance than many of his peers, most of which fared on average 15 percent to 25 percent worse than Ayala.

Brisk business
It wasn’t just property and banking companies scooping prizes. John Gollifer, senior vice president and head of IR at Singapore Exchange, won the award for best IRO. Analysts and investors from around the world praised Gollifer for being ‘a market leader in IR – consistent and credible.’

Gollifer says that, despite the downturn, the last three or four months have been the busiest ever. ‘We’ve all had a tough year but we’ve definitely had more inquiries,’ he observes. ‘September is always busy after our full-year results but it was followed up with more investor meetings in October.’

Gollifer also notes that while investment decisions are being put on the back burner until confidence returns, there is still strong interest from investors.

Another winner from outside the property and banking sphere was Malaysian utility company Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB), which won best IR in the Singapore market by a Malaysian company.

The firm receives significant investor interest from outside Malaysia, including Singapore, Hong Kong, the US and Europe, but it has seen a drop-off in non-domestic shareholdings over the last year or so. TNB’s team favors giving investors access to top management on policies and direction. ‘We try to put ourselves in their shoes and ask, What do investors need from us?’ explains Kalavathy Subramaniam, the firm’s general manager of IR and management reporting.

Like many companies, TNB has suffered extreme volatility. ‘Increases in coal prices have also affected financial performance but we are fortunate in that our balance sheet is still relatively strong so there is no immediate risk of a negative free cash flow,’ comments Subramaniam.

Other award winners include ARA Asset Management for best IR for an IPO; Macquarie International Infrastructure Fund, which won best corporate governance at a small or mid-cap company; and Singapore Petroleum Company, which took the gong for most progress in IR for a small or mid-cap firm.

How the winners are chosen

This year we improved and expanded the research that underlies our three awards events in Asia. Netherlands-based Rematch conducted the independent state-of-the-art survey. Using the Thomson IBES database of analysts via FactSet Research Systems and the LionShares-Rematch ownership database of over 33,000 institutional investors, Rematch surveyed the entire universe of investment professionals covering South East Asian stocks. A total of 426 analysts and portfolio mangers participated in the South East Asia portion of the survey.

Full details of the winners can be found at www.irmagazinesoutheastasia.com.

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