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SMC acquires 49% of PAL Holdings

$500-M investment to give it management control

RAMON S. ANG. PHOTO FROM SANMIGUEL.COM.PH

San Miguel Corp. has firmed up a deal to acquire 49 percent of tycoon Lucio Tan’s PAL Holdings Inc. for about $500 million, thereby obtaining a significant foothold in national flag carrier Philippine Airlines.

Inquirer sources said SMC and the group of Lucio Tan agreed in principle for the former to buy into PAL’s parent company before the SMC’s exclusivity period lapsed in end-March.

An emergency board meeting was convened by PAL Holdings on Monday afternoon to discuss the deal with SMC, which had been in the works for the last three months.

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The sources said that under the arrangement, SMC would buy 49 percent of PAL Holdings, a publicly listed entity. The structure of the deal is described by sources as complex but in the end, SMC’s entry in PAL’s parent company is seen giving it an effective 40-percent control of the airline. As expected, SMC will have management control of the airline.

SMC’s entry as Tan’s strategic partner was seen helping in the refleeting and modernization of the aircraft of Philippine Airlines in preparation for the projected heavy influx of tourists in the coming years, which will be beneficial to the Philippine tourism industry.

The purchase price was in line with PAL Holdings’ current valuation at the stock market. As of Monday, its shares were up 0.49 percent at P8.18 a share, giving it a market capitalization of P44.13 billion.

Industry sources said Tan and SMC president Ramon Ang had been in talks for the latter’s potential investment in PAL, initially meant as a personal venture for Ang, who is himself a pilot. However, SMC itself had become interested in the airline, leading to a memorandum of understanding signed last December that paved the way for a due diligence audit.

The airline business is seen in line with SMC’s diversification into infrastructure-building. San Miguel is investing about $300 million to modernize and set up new tourism amenities at the Godofredo P. Ramos airport in Caticlan, the main gateway to the world-famous Boracay Island. The conglomerate has also expressed interest to participate in the public bidding for the public-private partnership airport contracts.

Ang has been in on-and-off talks to invest in PAL over the last few years.

Ang’s business rival, First Pacific Co. Ltd. executive director Manuel V. Pangilinan, likewise expressed interest in PAL and while an alternative offer was kept as a back-up plan, industry sources said Tan himself and his brother Harry Tan had favored Ang’s proposal.

PAL earlier got an imprimatur from Malacañang to spin off its catering, ground handling and call-center reservations units, making it easier for the airline to attract investors. The spin-off plan is a measure intended to stabilize PAL’s finances due to the lingering effects of the global recession.

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TAGS: Lucio Tan, PAL Holdings Inc., Philippine Airlines, San Miguel Corporation, SMC
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