Biz Buzz

Sharing the skies?

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Taipan Lucio Tan’s plan to sell his group’s 51-percent stake in flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) has opened a new window of opportunity for businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan (MVP).

We heard that the First Pacific group’s big boss has recently received feelers involving the sale of Kapitan’s stake. PAL is “being offered again to MVP,” one source from the Pangilinan group confirmed. It’s unclear, though, whether this offer came from a family member or some adviser/deal-maker.

It’s no secret that MVP has long entertained prospects of extending the empire to the skies. But San Miguel Corp. (SMC) under Ramon S. Ang (RSA) ended up in control of the cockpit.

But is this something MVP will consider even if it means getting into bed with a “frenemy?”

Before SMC bought into the airline, RSA and MVP had thought of creating a partnership to take over PAL, although the plan didn’t get off the ground. From what we gather, for as long as MVP’s group gets the majority—and it is a majority stake that’s on the block—the group won’t mind sharing the boardroom with RSA’s team. Just like the boardroom setup at Manila Electric Co.

This also suggests that the ball is in SMC’s court. If and when MVP decides to go for the 51-percent stake in PAL, the deal would be subject to a right of first refusal by SMC. The conglomerate can either match the offer or allow MVP to come in as a partner in control of the majority stake. The odds are in favor of the first scenario. But MVP has, at the very least, the capability of influencing the pricing of Kapitan’s exit point.  Doris C. Dumlao

Bad PR

MACAU’S casino giant Melco Crown may be the first casino resort operator in Manila to reap glowing citations on management, corporate governance and corporate social responsibility from a respected international magazine. But it has a lot to learn about investor and public relations in a democracy like the Philippines. This is especially when it has a publicly listed company operating in this market.

During its very first annual stockholders meeting in this market, Melco Crown (Philippines) Resorts Corp. was unnecessarily hostile to the local stock market press corps. After braving inclement weather on Friday, business reporters and photographers were barred from covering Melco Philippines’ stockholders meeting, citing “company policy” and “instruction from the board.”

The annual stockholders meeting is a rare opportunity for investors, reporters and analysts to intimately talk to top company officials to gain insights on publicly listed companies. We’re not sure if this is how Melco does it in Macau, but in this market, for a publicly listed company to close the doors during a stockholders’ meeting, it suggests either paranoia or lack of transparency.

Well, some officials did talk to the remaining reporters after the meeting and there was an attempt to reach out to those who had left, but that’s after the fact.

Apart from irking media, Melco has already upset minority investors who bought shares during a follow-on offering. Those investors lamented the lack of price stabilization efforts when shares slumped right after the offering.  Doris C. Dumlao

Who’s ‘allergic’ to a negotiated deal?

The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) will rebid an P8.2-billion contract to supply the information technology (IT) needs of the Land Transportation Office (LTO) after the remaining bidder, Eurolink Network, was disqualified.

Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya said the IT deal, aimed at replacing controversial suppler Stradcom, will soon be offered again to interested private sector groups. The plan is to build a new database that can be linked to the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, thus creating an integrated system.

Noting how government officials are generally “allergic” to a negotiated deal in case a bidding fails, Abaya is “hopeful” that the project will be awarded in the second round.

Also, the LTO is preparing to release new and redesigned license plates for all motor vehicles in the country.

Abaya said the bidding for the five-year, P3.9-billion contract has been completed and that the agency has already singled out the supplier with the lowest complying offer.

The new plates will be styled in a simple “black and white” design for private vehicles. Apart from safety features, the new look will also help the transportation department deal with illegal bus operators.

Should the awarding occur this month, Abaya said the new plates could be ready by July or the first week of August for those renewing their vehicle registrations.  Miguel R. Camus

Difficult job

YOU know you’re going to have a hell of a job if you were told you had to referee an area equivalent to 4,000,400 basketball courts. Apparently, that’s what an official of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has to oversee and, if necessary, defend (with the aid of the Coast Guard).

On the sidelines of a nationwide registration program for fisherfolk, BFAR director Asis Perez says that since his agency’s workforce comprises just 1,100 people, and each person is in charge of 188,000 hectares of sea area and about six islands. But that’s just the length and breadth of it, not counting the depths that house the corals, taklobo (giant clams) and other marine resources that need to be protected from local and foreign poachers.

And with recent international incidents in Philippine waters, Asis said the BFAR and its parent agency, the Department of Agriculture, are considering reviving the idea of creating a department for fisheries and aquatic resources.

“It’s not really a new idea but, fortunately for us, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala is supportive because he understands the complexity of our function—that we are not just aquaculturists,” Perez says.

He stresses that municipal and commercial fishery, which takes up much of a BFAR agent’s attention, is not just about input-output, the way planting and harvesting go in crop farming.

“Tuna, for example, is simply harvested. We’re more about stock management, with the added dimension of defense together with the Coast Guard,” Perez explains.

The Philippines, being an archipelago, has porous borders, and the institutional support that BFAR cannot provide its agents in its present state puts a huge strain on their forces as it faces off the evils of illegal fishing practices while it manages coastal resources. Even the P6.7-billion budget that BFAR is seeking for 2014, if approved, would be just enough to sustain ongoing or pipelined programs, with not much provisions for adding and equipping personnel, Perez laments.

It’s hard to tell how well the idea of creating yet another department may be received in Malacañang, Perez says. But, as the BFAR agents are already caught between complex responsibilities and lack of resources, he says making that proposal is worth a try. Riza T. Olchondra

Philam’s bright side

Philippine American Life and General Insurance Co. has a new address. It is so new that the company’s letterhead—at least the ones used for press releases—still bear details of its old haunt on UN Avenue in Manila.

In fact, if Philam Life president and CEO Rex Mendoza’s business card is to be an indicator, he must still be braving the old area’s miserable vehicular traffic or motoring in and out of a neighborhood that is dangerous to pedestrians. (For some reason, the name cards of many of his subordinates say they are proud citizens of a paradise called Bonifacio Global City.)

“Here in our new place, job applicants will not be disappointed,” Mendoza says. “In the old place, prospective recruits do not come back for a second day (of a recruitment program). They see our building and they disappear.”

Mendoza gushes over the Net Lima Building, which is “ultra-modern” and touted as the first Berde-certified structure in the country. The Philippine Green Building Council promotes environment-friendly architecture through the country’s national voluntary rating system—Building for Ecologically Responsive Design Excellence (Berde).

Walking breezily to lunch at a restaurant a block away, Mendoza quips: “If you do this in Manila, you are probably getting held up by now.”

But why, for a company that is so into real estate, rent at all? Why not move to your own eponymous building?

Because business is robust, says Mendoza, who laments a blind item which alleged that the occupancy rate at Philamlife Tower in Makati City is just 70 percent.

“There is no space for us there because it’s 95-percent occupied,” he points out.

Philam Life COO Reynaldo C. Centeno tells Biz Buzz that the company can not find enough contiguous floors available elsewhere.

But wait, there’s more. Mendoza says the firm does not intend to be a tenant for too long.

“We’ll build ourselves a new headquarters in about five years,” he says.

Where? Mendoza is mum. Too bad for property speculators.  Ronnel W. Domingo

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