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Romero scion acquires Cojuangco firm

MANILA, Philippines - One of the country’s leading port operators has acquired a majority stake in a publicly listed company owned by businessman Antonio “Tonyboy” Cojuangco as part of the former’s bid to create a global port management and operation conglomerate.

Sultan 900 Capital Inc., an investment company owned and controlled by Harbour Centre Port Terminal Inc. (HCPTI) president Michael Romero, has reached an agreement to purchase 95.22 percent of Mic Holdings Inc. for P175 million. Sultan 900 will buy the controlling shares from Ventcap, a company identified with Cojuangco, at P339 per share of 3.39 times its par value.

Romero, also chairman of Manila North Harbor Port Inc. (MNHPI), a joint venture between HCPTI and San Miguel Corp.-controlled Petron Corp., told The STAR that the cross sale and a general tender offer should be effected today.

In an interview, Romero, vice-chairman and part-owner of AirAsia Phils., said Mic Holdings will eventually serve as the holding company for their port business, which currently includes Harbour Centre and Manila North Harbor. The two Manila-based premier ports, one international and the other domestic, are currently under a holding company - Harbour Center Port Terminals Holdings Inc.- which is majority owned by Romero. This holding company will eventually be owned by Mic.

From P100 million, Mic’s authorized capital will be increased to P500 million as approved by the previous board of the company. “The plan after that is to further increase the capitalization to P2 billion and then to P3 billion,” Romero said.

Mic will likewise increase its number of shares and then reduce the par value of its shares from P100 to P1 per share.

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There are also plans to amend Mic’s articles of incorporation to change its name and primary and secondary business purposes.

Romero revealed that in the next two years, Mic will concentrate on acquiring additional ports in the country and then later consolidating the operations of these ports. The Harbour Centre group earlier made an unsolicited proposal to operate and maintain Subic Free Port’s naval supply depot (NSD) break bulk cargo operations. It is also in talks to acquire two small provincial ports.

He said Mic will also serve as the vehicle for the Harbour Group’s plan to go global. Among the foreign ports being eyed by the group for possible operation include one in Guam, Vietnam, and the Middle East.

Romero told The STAR that they are also eyeing dual listing of Mic, possibly in Singapore or Hong Kong. “If we are able to operate and manage international ports, that’s the time we will consider listing abroad,” he said.

HCPTI owns 65 percent of MNHPI, a joint venture with Petron, and holds the 25-year contract to develop, manage, operate, and maintain North Harbor, the country’s oldest and busiest domestic port.

Also owned by HCPTI, Harbour Centre is a 15-hectare multi-purpose private commercial port terminal located within the 79-hectare port-city complex called Manila Harbour Centre.

HCPTI has offered to develop the NSD break bulk cargo operations in Subic and has pledged to invest P6 billion into the facility. The concession covers a period of 25 years. Under the terms, Harbour Centre will give variable commitments per metric ton of 20 percent depending on volume plus a minimum guarantee of $500,000 per year escalating every year.

Covering 17 hectares, the NSD is a common user, multipurpose terminal that caters to various types of cargo. It handles about two million tons of cargo every year and serves the port requirements of businesses in Central and Northern Luzon and the industries in the Subic Freeport.

In an earlier interview with The STAR, Romero said they are looking at two more ports, one in Visayas and another in Mindanao, that they can own or operate.

“These two other domestic smaller ports can benefit from the strength of our North Harbor operations. All our ports will be operating using one web-based operating system. We will also set up cranes in these two other ports in Visayas and Mindanao,” he said. HCPTI is still in negotiations with the owners of these two ports.

Earlier, Romero revealed that HCPTI experienced a 20 percent growth in 2010 or from 4.6 million tons of cargo handled in 2009 to 5.5 million tons serviced last year.

He said the growth in the economy, the added importation of agricultural and construction products were the reason behind the robust and tremendous growth of HCPTI.

Romero also said that the addition of the Manila North Harbor or Northport into the group added 14 million tons of cargoes every year making the total cargo-handling operations of the Harbour Centre group at 20 million tons a year.

“The strategic partnership between the Harbour Group and San Miguel/Petron group would surely be a growth mechanism for the port in the future,” he pointed out.

For this year, he said the Harbour Group would try to sustain the momentum it had in 2010, and aims to grow through strategic tie-ups domestically and internationally.

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