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Biz Buzz: New lotto bosses

/ 12:26 AM September 09, 2016

Unlike previous dispensations, the Duterte administration seems to shy away from making big announcements when it makes new appointments to state agencies as well as government-owned or -controlled corporations.

But change does inevitably come to these agencies—as the President had promised during the campaign period—often taking holdover appointees from the previous administration by surprise (even if they’ve already been told get ready to pack up at a moment’s notice).

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The latest government agency to have new leaders appointed is the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office. This cash-rich corporation that regulates and operates the country’s multibillion-peso lottery program is one of the most coveted government posts in any administration, together with the similarly cash-rich Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.

Biz Buzz learned that, starting next week, PCSO will have new head honchos to replace outgoing chair Erineo “Ayong” Maliksi and outgoing career official, general manager Jose Ferdinand Rojas II.

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As is increasingly fashionable nowadays, the new leaders will be no strangers to martial discipline—something needed to manage the billions of pesos in funds that come through the offices the agency handles, along with the attendant temptations that come with it.

Sources informed Biz Buzz that, starting next week, PCSO will be chaired by retired Philippine National Police General George Corpuz. Meanwhile, the day-to-day operations of the agency will be run by another military man, this time in the person of former Marine General Alexander Balutan.

This could be a positive development for the agency, which has traditionally been viewed as a prime reward for political allies of the sitting administration. If having two former military men at the helm of PCSO won’t deter politicians from milking the agency for favors for their constituencies (or themselves), we don’t know what will. Daxim L. Lucas

Villar’s rehab ‘farm’

PROPERTY tycoon Manuel Villar Jr. is planning to play a much bigger—and far less violent—role in combating the use of drugs in the country.

Villar, via the family’s foundation, said he was allowing the use of a “farm” near Pasay City, which will provide agricultural training programs to individuals struggling with drug addiction. Addressing the drug problem, now the subject of a crackdown under the Duterte administration, was among the initiatives of the Villar Foundation.

Villar’s wife, Sen. Cynthia Villar, earlier filed a bill seeking to lower rehabilitation costs for drug addicts. She also wanted more rehab centers up and running.

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Manuel Villar, a close ally of President Duterte, said the move was in line with government’s drive against the use of drugs.

The businessman, who made his fortune building affordable housing communities even in far flung areas, said he eventually wanted more of these “agricultural training farms” made available across the country.

Villar believed these farms could play an important part in the rehabilitation process. He said beneficiaries could continue on with their lives, or maybe become farmers themselves.

“Plant it, don’t smoke it” sounds like a pretty good slogan to us. Miguel R. Camus

No mining rush for Kapitan

THINK Lucio Tan and we usually imagine a successful taipan whose business empire spans airlines, banking, liquor, tobacco and property. But mining?

Yes. In reality, Lucio Tan does have some mining interests that oddly came along with the family-controlled MacroAsia Corp., an airline company focused on behind-the-scenes services such as aircraft maintenance and in-flight catering.

MacroAsia actually controls mineral production sharing agreements (MPSAs) covering more than 1,000 hectares in Brooke’s Point, Palawan. Its Infanta nickel project, in fact, was a valuable source of ore shipments to Japan in the 1970s before it was shuttered.

In recent years, the company has been taking steps to reopen the mine, maintenance works have commenced and exploration activities were also initiated.

Will investors see some progress there soon? Apparently, not.

We’re hearing from within the Tan group that those plans have been placed on the back burner for now. That’s partly because commodity prices are far from great and as the new Department of Environment and Natural Resources chief, Regina Lopez, continues her fierce crackdown on the industry.

The good news is the aviation industry remains very resilient and is poised for further growth. MacroAsia investors for now would be wise to bet on prospects above the ground, instead of those beneath it. Miguel R. Camus

‘Reliable investment’

What’s the record for the highest dividend declaration in the Philippine corporate scene ever? Well, Biz Buzz does not have the definitive answer, but we are aware of a piece of historical trivia that may come very close to answering that.

Back in 1975—yes, that long ago—the board of directors of Centro Escolar University approved a stock dividend declaration of a whopping 4,800 percent. You read it correctly: 4,800 percent. And we’ve seen an original yellowing letter from more than four decades ago to a longtime stockholder announcing those happy tidings (in this case, to an employee of the university who had availed himself of a stock option plan a few years earlier).

So this begs the question: Is the education sector a profitable business line?

The answer to that question seems to be “yes”, even if there are many horror stories about schools struggling with stagnant enrollment numbers and activist students who resist owners’ efforts to raise tuition fees every year.

In the case of CEU, it remains a little known listed company on the Philippine Stock Exchange today, is illiquid for the most part, and no longer declares dividends by the thousands of percent. But there are still old-school investors who swear by CEU’s stock and, in fact, stubbornly refuse to sell them, even if there are more exciting blue-chip investment options.

Biz Buzz asked around and learned that CEU still declares regular cash dividends and sends checks for these payouts to shareholders regularly. Every quarter, in fact, without fail, according to one loyal shareholder.

And the annual cash dividend rate? At least 7 percent, this shareholder told Biz Buzz.

In this day of record-low interest rates, where the return on savings accounts is at 0.25 percent gross, CEU’s cash dividend rate is hard to beat. Don’t go rushing to the stock market though. With that guaranteed return rate, it’s unlikely you’ll find any stockholder who’d want to sell his shares.  Daxim L. Lucas

E-mail us at [email protected] Get business alerts and a preview of Biz Buzz the evening before it comes out. Text ON INQ BUSINESS to 4467 (P2.50/alert).

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