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Taipans see challenging year

Henry Sy Sr., John Gokongwei Jr. and Andrew Tan. INQUIRER FILE PHOTOS

Expect a rough ride ahead as the Year of the Horse is bound to be a challenging year, believers in Chinese astrology have warned, adding that most people can expect volatile times in their professional and personal lives.

The advice is one that the country’s wealthiest Chinese-Filipino families have taken to heart, as they take stock of the potential difficulties that lurk in 2014.

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“It will be a challenging year to maintain earnings,” agreed Helen Yuchengco-Dee, who chairs taipan Alfonso Yuchengco’s Rizal Commercial Banking Corp.

But business groups led by the country’s taipans or their anointed successors apparently have detailed action plans to help them face the challenges ahead and even profit from them.

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Nowhere is this more evident than in the business plans this year of the SM group led by the Philippines’ wealthiest man, Henry Sy Sr.

Sy’s daughter Tessie Sy-Coson, vice chair of the family’s flagship firm, SM Investments Corp., described the Year of the Wooden Horse as a time for hard work, if one were to surmount the expected difficulties of riding a bucking stallion.

“Being in the Year of the Horse perhaps means you have to run fast,” said Coson. “You have to run faster because of competition. Competition will always be there,” she added.

This is not a time to be gun-shy about investing, Coson said, adding that the SM group intends to grow its mall operations, starting with the recent unveiling of plans to expand SM Megamall by 101,000 square meters of leasable space. This would make the mall one of the largest shopping centers in the world in terms of selling area.

“It is because of competition that we have to do it,” said the vice chair of SM Investments.

 

Positive spin

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Another taipan, real estate magnate Andrew Tan of Megaworld, similarly put a positive spin on the characteristics of the Year of the Horse.

“The country can look forward to a very robust, energetic year,” said Tan, who chairs Alliance Global Inc.

“The horse represents the spirit of competition, which is very important because it pushes us to work harder and be more efficient and innovative,” Tan said.

For the business empire built by John Gokongwei Jr., the plan is simply to forge ahead and continue what it has been doing, while keeping an eye on the potential surprises that the volatile financial market might spring.

“[We will] continue to focus on building businesses that benefit from the Philippines’ expanding middle class,” said Lance Gokongwei, the taipan’s heir apparent, and currently in charge of the Cebu Pacific airline business.

In particular, the Gokongwei empire will continue to focus on consumer-based businesses like food, retail, airline and malls, he said.

Grounded on reality

But the Harvard-educated scion indicated that his optimism was grounded on reality, which explains why he plans to “maintain liquidity and flexibility on balance sheet by terming out loans.”

For Filinvest Development Corp. (FDC) president and CEO Josephine Gotianun-Yap, 2014 is bound to be an “excellent” year, in part because it is an auspicious year for her Chinese birth sign, the goat.

“So I am looking forward [to an] excellent year for Filinvest, as well,” she said, pointing out that Filinvest is off to a rolling start by successfully raising billions from the debt market to fund expansion activities.

“The year 2014 marks the start of the construction of FDC Utilities’ 405-megawatt Mindanao power plant, while East West Bank expects to hit its target of over 400 branches,” Yap said. “Our Crimson hotel brand will break ground in Boracay, plus we have four more hotels in the planning stage.”

Mixed-use projects

Filinvest’s real estate development arm will also be constructing six malls, seven business process outsourcing buildings and three major mixed-use projects on top of its usual residential projects nationwide, she added.

Arthur Ty, who chairs GT Capital Holdings and Metropolitan Bank and Trust Co., also brushed off the negative hype about the Year of the Horse, saying the outlook for business in the country remained positive.

“Philippine fundamentals remain intact, liquidity good, inflation controlled,” he said. “It should be a good year for the general economy.”

But for SM group’s Coson, there should be more to 2014 than just good business.

Her wish list for the country this year apparently echoed almost everyone’s fervent prayer: “Less disaster, more peace, more progress.”

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TAGS: Alfonso Yuchengco, Alliance Global Inc., Andrew Tan, Business, Chinese-Filipinos, Helen Yuchengco-Dee, Henry Sy Sr., John Gokongwei Jr., Lance Gokongwei, Megaworld, Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., SM Investments, Year of the Horse
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