Is OCBC taking a shine again to non-banking investments?

Is OCBC taking a shine again to non-banking investments?

SINGAPORE'S second-largest lender OCBC Bank is set to pump $93 million into a non-banking asset.

This may be a relatively small sum but it seems something of a U-turn after the bank long made clear its long-term aim of selling non-banking assets to focus on its core business.

Earlier this year, OCBC, together with the founding Lee family and its Great Eastern Holdings insurance unit, supported United Engineers (UE) in its takeover bid for WBL Corp.

OCBC holds 20 per cent of UE and about 7 per cent of WBL, and its support as a "concert party" for the bid just meant its stake would be added to UE's acceptances - but it would not sell its WBL shares to UE.

Now, OCBC is going the extra mile. On Tuesday, UE unveiled a rights issue to cut its massive borrowings as it pays for WBL. The bank will subscribe to its full allotment.

At $1.50 per rights share and with OCBC's direct and indirect stake of 62.21 million shares, the bank, together with its units, would need to fork out about $93 million.

So after years of raising money from selling non-banking stakes, OCBC has moved to spend money to sustain and grow UE, a property, engineering and construction firm, which just bought WBL - a real estate, automotive and technology firm.

Shareholders could be forgiven for wondering whether OCBC has developed a non-banking focus once again.

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