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Drama aplenty as SMRT shareholders vote yes on Temasek buyout

SINGAPORE — After nearly four hours in an extraordinary general meeting and scheme meeting which were chock-full of incidents — a technical glitch hitting the voting system, shareholders jeering and a disgruntled investor berating the chief executive — an overwhelming majority of SMRT shareholders supported the privatisation offer by parent firm Temasek Holdings on Thursday (Sept 29).

SINGAPORE — After nearly four hours in an extraordinary general meeting and scheme meeting which were chock-full of incidents — a technical glitch hitting the voting system, shareholders jeering and a disgruntled investor berating the chief executive — an overwhelming majority of SMRT shareholders supported the privatisation offer by parent firm Temasek Holdings on Thursday (Sept 29).

A total of 84.8 per cent of SMRT’s minority shareholders, or 3,747 of them, voted in favour of the buyout offer from Temasek. Only 670 shareholders voted against the bid. The thumbs-up came after 98.8 per cent voted to approve the assets sale to the Land Transport Authority (LTA) as part of the transition to the new rail financing framework (NRFF).

Temasek’s wholly owned subsidiary Belford had proposed in July to buy the 46 per cent of SMRT shares that the state-owned fund does not already hold, by way of a scheme of arrangement at S$1.68 per share, or about S$1.18 billion in total. Shareholders whom TODAY spoke to after the meetings ended, said they voted for the buyout due to market uncertainties, as well as fears that the share price would plunge if the deal should fall through.

Retiree Joanna Tang, 57, said: “I expected that people will vote in favour, due to the current market. When you think of SMRT’s profit margins in the next few years, a lot of people are not confident. I feel there will be a lot of expenditure required to sustain the company. If I don’t vote for it, I might not get the returns in future, and might as well get out now and invest in something else.”

Another retiree, 64-year-old David Tan said: “If the buy-over should fail, the price will fall below S$1.68.”

Analysts were not surprised by the outcome, with OCBC Investment Research analyst Eugene Chua saying: “From the start, I already thought the deal would go through and investors would accept the scheme as it would be a logical decision. S$1.68 is a good deal for the investors to cash out and it makes better sense than for them hold on to the shares and watch the price fall down to possible S$1.40 levels if the sale was not completed.”

The meetings started at 2.30pm on Thursday at The Star Theatre at Star Vista, where SMRT shareholders turned up in the thousands, resulting in long queues for registration. The first round of voting — for the asset sale to LTA — was marred by glitches in the electronic voting system, delaying the result by about 30 minutes.

Shareholders were also keen to raise questions and voice their concerns, which ranged from the offer price to the lack of a special dividend, to technical questions about the NRFF. 

SMRT board chairman Koh Yong Guan and chief executive Desmond Kuek fielded the questions.

A top grievance was the offer price of S$1.68, especially among those who had bought their shares at over S$2. Emotions boiled over at times, with people booing just before the buyout offer was voted on. 

A man stood up to slam Mr Kuek, saying that the previous CEO — Ms Saw Phaik Hwa who resigned in 2012 — was better than he is, prompting applause from the crowd. Mr Kuek did not respond.

For all the drama, Temasek got the deal it wanted by a large margin. An application will now be made to the High Court for sanction of the scheme, which is expected to become effective on Oct 21. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ANGELA TENG

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