Singapore, September 12, 2007
CNBC - CNBC presenter
TSFY - YTL Corp Managing Director, Tan Sri (Dr.) Francis Yeoh Sock Ping
CNBC: The mortgage meltdown and housing troubles that have been seen in the United States have been raising concerns that a possible recession in the world’s number one economy which also happens to be the number one destination of Asian exports. So how are Asian companies preparing themselves for a possible slowdown? Let’s get the perspective of Francis Yeoh, group managing director at Malaysia’s YTL Corporation which has its fingers in many, many pies. He’s also in town for the Forbes CEO Conference joining us here in Singapore. Francis, it’s a real pleasure to have you once again on our show.
TSFY: It’s a pleasure.
CNBC: We’ve seen a lot of market volatility haven’t we over the last 6 weeks or so. How has that impacted your business at YTL?
TSFY: None at all. In the volatility of things, but we are in the long-term concession business. But this provides a rare opportunity. I’ve been thinking how on earth can there have been prosperity for the last eleven years. And it’s still looks like its going North and the liquidity seems endless and then came this innocuous sub-prime. Seems liquidity has shrunk. And this provides opportunities. Suddenly the private equity people can’t overpay anymore. It’s getting expensive, the gearing. So, I’ve always thought that the interest rates in the US were quite high. But the private equity guys have been snapping up infrastructure, etc. All the while at exorbitant, at what I call exorbitant prices. But now I think I have more opportunities.
CNBC: You are looking at infrastructure assets, I believe in and outside at Malaysia?
TSFY: Yes. 70% of our revenue from YTL Group comes from outside Malaysia so we are pretty much a global player. So we are watching all infrastructure around the globe.
CNBC: So you want to buy some big infrastructure assets within the next 6 months or so?
TSFY: Well if big is efficient, yes.
CNBC: In which particular markets here in Asia?
TSFY: There will be a lot of opportunities. Singapore is trying to sell some of their power assets. Regionally, there are people wanting to sell. India is trying to privatise some of their infrastructure assets, China is thinking about that. We are thinking about it in Malaysia, we are doing for example some water treatment of rivers. It’s the first economy in Asia to take this seriously. We use our Wessex Waters technology and we clean the water from the grade 4 to grade 2. All of Asia’s rivers have not been cleaned at all. So I think that provides a lot of opportunities.
CNBC (2nd presenter): Francis, good morning, good to see you.
TSFY: Good morning.
CNBC: One of the big flagship projects that you have been proposing is a high-speed railway between Kuala Lumpur and here, Singapore. Give us an update on the status of that project. How far away are you from developing it etc. Have you secured all the necessary financing? Just give us a status report on that.
TSFY: Well, I think that as far as this project goes, feasibility is no longer in doubt. As far as the way it’s going to go as a private sector-led project, as the prime minister reiterated last night, it should be so. It’s not going to be a government kind of project. So it is totally private sector-run. We are going through all the motions to make sure we explain, articulate very very well the economic benefits for both economies, Singapore and Malaysia. And the impact, I think, it’s positive for both now. I think most of the decision makers are aware of the fact that it is a good project but it is up to the private sector to lead it.
CNBC: Talking about the private sector, are you in any talks with any companies to get on board as joint venture partners to help you develop this project?
TSFY: At this point of time, there is no necessity except for technological partners who build this train. We are talking about a one and a half hour train ride between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, which is incredibly exciting. And the dynamics will change, look how the London-Paris train has impacted businesses and properties over there. Properties actually converged from London to Paris, from 21% to 3% in 4 years.
CNBC: Francis, can we squeeze a little bit more information out of you with regards to these infrastructure assets that you are looking to by here in the region. How close are you to announcing one of these acquisitions to the market?
TSFY: I’ve been very patient for a while so I have been raising some money of late, slowly in anticipation.
CNBC: And you’ve got no problem at all raising money because obviously lenders are becoming a bit choosier about who they are lending to. Doesn’t that affect you?
TSFY: In YTL’s case, absolutely none. We’ve recently just raised some money in case we’ve prospective acquisitions. It was well, well over subscribed, the debt that we raised.
CNBC: So what is your budget? What is your arsenal right now?
TSFY: We’ve got about 7 billion ringgit cash reserves in the company, and that gives us the firepower to acquire up to 70 billion ringgit of assets. So I think we have enough, but are just adding a bit more into the war chest just in case opportunities come quicker than anticipated.
CNBC: Thank you very much.
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