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February 1, 2007 5:31 am

First Pacific moves to rescue PLDT purchase

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First Pacific of Hong Kong is moving to save its troubled 25.2bn peso ($517m) bid for the Philippine government’s indirect 6.4 per cent stake in Philippine Long Distance Telephone Corp.

In a statement released late Wednesday night, the investment firm said it would call for a special general meeting of shareholders soon to seek approval of its bid to buy up to 46 per cent of Manila’s stake in Philippine Telecommunications Investment Co, a single-purpose holding company that owns 14 per cent of PLDT. First Pacific said it expects to complete the deal by March 2.

The company, which already owns 54 per cent of PTIC and almost a quarter of PLDT, backed off from signing a sale with Manila Tuesday after failing to secure consent from the Hong Kong stock exchange to buy an initial 23 per cent of PTIC without shareholder approval.

“First Pacific's board had wished to initially complete the exercise of the right to match in respect of 23 per cent of PTIC today (Tuesday), as a discloseable transaction under the Listing Rules, and to acquire the remaining 23 per cent of PTIC available for purchase following shareholders approval for the resulting major transaction having been obtained,” First Pacific said. “But a waiver requested from The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited in order to facilitate this was ultimately not forthcoming.”

The Hong Kong bourse considers the proposed purchases as “connected,” and constituting a “major transaction” that requires shareholder approval, First Pacific said.

First Pacific’s move to split the purchase into two installments was apparently prompted by its failure to strike a final agreement with a unit of Japan’s NTT group, which owns 13.4 per cent of PLDT, on a joint bid for the government stake in the holding company.

In December, First Pacific and NTT DoCoMo announced a deal for the two parties to acquire 23 per cent each of the PTIC stake. “It has not, to date, been possible to reach final agreement with NTT DoCoMo in this regard and, accordingly, the (First Pacific) Group now wishes to have the flexibility to exercise the right to match in respect of the entire 46 per cent interest in PTIC available under the auction,” said First Pacific.

The Philippine government auctioned off its interest in PTIC in December after the supreme court ruled that the stake was part of assets illegally amassed by former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and therefore belonged to the government.

First Pacific, as owner of the remaining 54 per cent, has said it was exercising its right to match the winning offer of 25.2bn made by Singaporean investment firm Parallax Venture Fund XXVII.

First Pacific has up to Thursday to exercise its option but the department of finance effectively gave the company another month when it said it would allow PTIC itself to exercise the right to match Parallax’s offer.

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