In for a penny…

August 27, 2008

Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain poses before a news conference in MumbaiSingapore’s Temasek made clear how bullish it is on Merrill Lynch in a Bloomberg TV interview, expressing great confidence in CEO John Thain. The news service reported that the Singapore wealth fund has U.S. clearance to raise its stake in the brokerage to as much as 14 percent. That would be worth roughly $1.7 billion on the open market. Though less if they issued new shares, it would certainly help Merrill deal with the $5.7 billion in write-downs it said it would take in the third quarter, and would probably be worth even more as a sign of steady capital support from its biggest share holder.

Such lifelines are likely to keep pumping funds into struggling Western banks, according to a regional executive at one of the world’s biggest institutional money managers. Hon Cheung, regional director of the Official Institutions Group in Asia at State Street Global Advisors said he expects the funds increasingly to adopt passive investment approaches, given the need to move large amounts of money without disrupting markets. “Their purpose is not to support the U.S. taxpayer or the U.S. economy or to ensure stable global markets. If by doing that, they get a side benefit that’s great. But their principal job is to benefit the stakeholders,” said Cheung. And as these sovereign wealth funds aren’t even really beholden to share holders, they may have stomach for even more stunning losses.

Lehman Brothers has asked three private equity firms to remain in the bidding for its asset management arm even though the investment bank has yet decide on whether to sell the unit, the Financial Times reported. Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Hellman & Friedman and Bain Capital have been told by Lehman that their bids are high enough to go forward, the paper said, citing people familiar with the matter. Although Lehman has not reached a decision, it has been soliciting bids from private equity firms to gauge interest in its asset management arm, which includes Neuberger Berman, the fund manager, and minority stakes in several hedge funds.

Other deals of the day:

* Steelmaker POSCO and Hyundai Heavy Industries officially expressed interest in acquiring a majority stake in world No. 3 shipyard Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering estimated at up to $8 billion.

* ConocoPhillips is expected to sell the remainder of its 600 company-owned gasoline stations to PetroSun West for $800 million, the Wall Street Journal said.

* Danish shipping and oil group A.P. Moller-Maersk said it was launching a bid worth 3.62 billion Swedish crowns ($569 million) for shipping company Brostrom.

* Sweden-based private equity firm EQT said it had sold its remaining stake in paper products maker Duni AB for an undisclosed sum.

* British market research group Taylor Nelson Sofres said it continued to oppose a hostile takeover bid from WPP despite preferred suitor GfK giving up its takeover attempt.

* Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the country’s second largest bank by assets, was unlikely to buy Indonesia’s Bank Ekonomi Raharja, an industry source told Reuters.

* Leading Turkish conglomerate Sabanci Holding wants to find a partner for its insurance unit Aksigorta rather than selling it, said group chairwoman Guler Sabanci.

* AIM-listed Proventec Plc, which provides specialist steam cleaning and coatings technologies, said it has acquired a 60 percent stake in German engineering company Frank for an undisclosed sum.

* Singapore-based KOP Capital, controlled by the emirate-owned Dubai Group, will buy a 50 percent stake in European hotel chain Stein Group for $250 million, and spend about the same amount on new hotels in Asia.

* Private equity firm 3i Group may invest 8-10 billion rupees ($183-$229 million) in a south Indian port operator for a stake of up to 26 percent, the Mint newspaper said, citing an official at the Indian firm.

* New Zealand grocery co-operative Foodstuffs will not appeal a court-imposed ban on it bidding for New Zealand’s largest-listed retailer, The Warehouse Group, the company said.

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