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Aspiring Midas

/ 02:56 AM February 15, 2012

Fresh from the initial public offering of his flagship Puregold Price Club late last year, Chinoy businessman Lucio Co is thirsting to diversify and make use of at least P1.8 billion in proceeds from the secondary shares sold as part of his retailing firm’s initial public offering.

And what better investment could there be than a hotel deemed as auspicious to Co’s favorite glittery commodity? Industry sources said Co has recently bought into boutique hotel Midas Hotel and Casino along Roxas Boulevard, coming in as a business partner of Bicolano businessman Zaldy Co. This other Co, owner of the high-end Misibis Bay resort along the southern tip of Cagraray Island in Bacacay, Albay, has acquired the hotel property, formerly known as the Hyatt Hotel a few years ago, from Chinoy singer-composer and businessman Jose Mari Chan and renamed it “Midas.”

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Yes, it’s the same hotel that recently served as the venue of a meeting where the Corona prosecution team had met recently, but this has of course nothing to do with the Cos (who by the way are not related by blood).

Apart from the hotel venture, we heard that the Puregold founder is planning to invest in the palm oil business. Our source said neighboring Malaysia, a leading palm oil producer, is now limiting land devoted to palm oil as tourism has already overtaken palm oil in earnings, so Co thinks that there could be some golden opportunity in planting palm trees and harvesting their oil, particularly in Davao.

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That’s Co, who seeks to improve his image in the business community after a good share of controversies in the past, looking for new “gold” mines outside of his retailing business (which challenges no less than the country’s richest man Henry Sy Sr.) Doris C. Dumlao

Pacman ANI

So last year, food producer and trader AgriNurture Inc. acquired popular fruit juice seller The Big Chill. Now, a few months after, it’s The Big Chill’s turn to buy another food industry brand.

Biz Buzz learned that The Big Chill has signed a deal to acquire the branches of cake shop Sugarhouse—which is nearly three decades old—once the former completes a due-diligence review of the acquisition target.

The move is part of ANI’s aggressive expansion in the retail food business sphere, with no less than The Big Chill’s president, Daniel Fernando, expressing optimism that the ongoing review of Sugarhouse’s books will yield positive results (and an attractive buying price for both parties involved, no doubt).

The Big Chill under ANI has, of course, opened up its brand to the franchising industry and plans to expand internationally later this year. So far, it has more than 50 outlets nationwide, including coffee brands Seattle and Tully’s. Its portfolio also includes healthy snack concept Fresh Bar, vegetarian quick-service restaurant chain C’Verde, fruit shake kiosk business Superfresh and niche-market sugarcane kiosk brand Canecoctions.

In particular, management is hoping that Tully’s coffee will do well once it is offered in Sugarhouse outlets, if the deal pushes through.

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And where is ANI getting the money for all these acquisitions? Its revenues have been growing rapidly in recent years, to the point of attracting private equity firm Black River Capital Partners Fund (a unit of US-based agribusiness giant Cargill Inc.) to buy 28 percent of the firm for $30.45 million. Expect more acquisitions courtesy of the publicly listed firm going forward. Daxim L. Lucas

LMG stalemate

LMG Chemicals Corp. and its parent firm, Chemical Industries of the Philippines Inc., respectively scheduled crucial board meetings last week to discuss the takeover offer of a new investor.

Chemphil afterwards disclosed that among other items, its board had indeed discussed such an offer without elaborating further, while LMG said its board meeting did not push through as directors decided to defer the meeting.

Biz Buzz sources said that what happened was that the Chemphil board meeting happened first, with feuding brothers Antonio and Ramon Garcia both in attendance, but the discussions headed nowhere.

With Ramon indicating reluctance to sell the company at the price acceptable to Antonio, tempers flared, resulting in the latter storming out of the Chemphil meeting. With no less than the chair walking out of the meeting, LMG’s board meeting could not push through.

Both LMG and Chemphil have gone on voluntary trading suspension since Feb. 6 pending talks with a new investor on a potential LMG buy-in deal. As we cited before, LMG is being eyed as a backdoor listing vehicle by a consumer-related group said to be keen on infusing P3 billion worth of assets and that this group has a P1-billion cash flow and aggressive plans to expand in China. The identity of this “mystery” investor remains, to date, just that: a mystery. Doris C. Dumlao

And now, watches

The website of the high-end watch brand IWC Schaffhausen (that’s the “International Watch Company” based in Schaffhausen, Switzerland) has, in its archive section, a gallery of VIPs known to favor the pricey and classy Swiss brand.

One of the VIPs featured in there is—surprise, surprise—no other than our very own President Aquino.

Someone posted a picture of the president (using a picture from the Inquirer website, no less) wearing what looked like an IWC Spitfire Chrono—a pilot’s watch that retails in the United States for the equivalent of around P250,000 (add duties and taxes if purchased here).

Another picture, which has since been taken down, is supposed to picture the president wearing an IWC Aquatimer 2000—a diver’s watch that costs anywhere from the equivalent of P150,000 to P200,000 at US retail prices. Not too expensive, of course, as some IWC models can sell for as much as P1.5 million.

The President clearly has good taste. Daxim L. Lucas

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