Singapore telco Singtel just became $1.8b richer

Singapore telco Singtel just became $1.8b richer
PHOTO: AFP

Southeast Asia's largest telecommunications company may be on the hunt for acquisitions following the highly anticipated public listing of Netlink NBN Trust, which raised about $2.35 billion.

The newly public trust was the broadband arm of Singapore Telecommunications (Singtel), which said it took in a sizable haul from the public debut.

"We will realise a gain on the disposal of the shares in excess of about $1.8 billion," Singtel Group CEO Chua Sock Koong, told CNBC on the sidelines of Wednesday's listing ceremony at the Singapore Exchange.

The successful debut of the fiber-infrastructure business was the largest float on the Singapore Exchange in six years and Singapore's largest business trust listing to date.

On the proceeds from the IPO, Chua said: "We will use that to pay down debt, investments in our existing business, investments in growth initiatives, and we're looking at other capital management initiatives."

Those initiatives may include deleveraging the telco's balance sheet or issuing a special dividend, but Singtel said it's evaluating its options to act in the best interest of stakeholders.

"We've always believed in having a strong investment-grade rating for the company. We like to have the financial flexibility to take advantage of investment opportunities when they come about."

As for potential acquisitions, Chua said the company has "always been looking at investments that would enhance our growth outlook."

"It could be in the digital space, it could be adding on to stakes in our existing associates," she said.

"We've always been financially very disciplined. We would like to do deals that are accretive to our shareholders. In the case of adding to our associate stakes, it's a lot easier, but of course it is dependent on investment opportunities being available on terms that we are comfortable with."

Chua added that, in the digital space, the telco "would be looking at investments that would allow us to expand our product range, that would allow us to expand our market reach."

Singtel now owns 24.99 per cent of NetLink NBN Trust following the IPO, fulfilling its undertaking to Singapore's regulator to divest its 100-per cent stake to less than 25 per cent before April 2018.

The telco is still considering its intentions with its remaining stake and didn't give a timeline on an investment decision: "We review our investments on a regular basis," Chua said.

"NetLink Trust is a great company. It's got steady cash flows, it's got a great business model and we are a big customer. We will consider our investment decisions, taking all of that into consideration."

The debut

NetLink Trust made its debut at $0.815 per unit before returning to its offer price of $0.810 on its first day of trade.

The initial public offering of 2.9 billion units was oversubscribed with strong support from both institutional and retail investors.

"The NetLink Group's future growth is driven by a clear strategy to tap opportunities in the residential, non-residential and non-building address point segments, underscored by the continued growth in data consumption," Netlink NBN Trust CEO Tong Yew Heng said in a statement.

According to unaudited financial statements, the trust generated $299.2 million in revenue, and profit before tax was $70.8 million for FY2017.

The group is expected to pay an annualized distribution yield of 5.43 per cent in 2018 and 5.73 per cent in 2019.

The trust owns a network of approximately 76,000 kilometers of fiber optic cables, 16,200 kilometers of ducts and 62,000 manholes - connecting both residential and non-residential locations on the island nation.

It is the only such operator in Singapore, a country that enjoys one of the highest average peak connection speeds in the world, according to the Singapore Exchange.

Wednesday's listing will boost the Singapore Exchange's REITs and Business Trust cluster to a total of 50 listings, and will bring the combined market capitalisation close to $100 billion, the exchange said in a statement.

"NetLink's passive fibre network infrastructure forms the backbone, and spurs Singapore's efforts to be one of the most digitally connected and competitive nations in the world," SGX CEO Loh Boon Chye said in a statement.

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