Former SPH editors respond to SPH's 'strategic review' of business

The review aims to unlock shareholder value, said SPH.

Joshua Lee | March 31, 2021, 07:59 PM

Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) announced on March 30 that it is undergoing a "strategic review to consider options for its various businesses", with the objective of unlocking and maximising long-term shareholder value.

The conglomerate added that its board of directors believes that the company is currently undervalued.

PN Balji: Under-performing media business might be broken off

Former editor of Today and The New Paper, PN Balji told Mothership that "unlocking shareholder value" must mean that the company is looking to break off the under-performing media business so that its other relatively successful businesses in property and student accommodation can push up share price.

SPH owns and operates The Seletar Mall. It also owns Orange Valley, one of Singapore's largest nursing homes, as well as purpose-built student accommodation in Britain and Germany.

Balji pointed out that SPH's media arm "won't be allowed to collapse because of its political value to the government".

He expects that it might become part of Temasek Holdings, and might call on former news media veterans the likes of former chief executive of South China Morning Post, Robin Hu, and former Mediacorp chief executive Shaun Seow — both of whom are currently with Temasek — to help with the media business.

In response to our queries with regard to Balji's comment, SPH said that it has nothing further to add to its March 30 statement.

Bertha Henson: Readers might end up not receiving full suite of news

Former Straits Times editor Bertha Henson was another veteran journalist who responded to the news, cautioning that any impact on the conglomerate's core publishing business might result in readers not receiving the "full suite of news".

"Whether we like it or not, SPH is still the one with resources to cover Singapore and the world," she wrote in a Facebook post.

Henson also pointed out that while SPH's digital circulation has been going up, the company does explain how this growth compares to revenue from subscriptions and advertisements, aside from repeatedly saying how the latter has been in "structural decline".

SPH reported a 9.4 per cent growth in circulation numbers last year. This growth was attributed to its News Tablet digital product and higher readership.

However, the pandemic disrupted all of SPH's major business segments, with the media business severely affected by the collapse in advertising, said chief executive Ng Yat Chung last year.

Advertisement revenue which was already in decline over the years, plunged by 31.4 per cent, or S$122.5 million.

Henson added in her post:

"It’s time somebody look a look at the business model of delivering the news to readers, with an eye on the national interest rather than just for shareholders."

SPH share price jumps by eight per cent after announcement

While SPH said that the strategic review might not result in a transaction or definitive agreement, the announcement has made an impact on the conglomerate's share price.

Business Times reported that SPH's share price rose by up to eight per cent on the morning of March 31.

Top image via BCA.