Loh family reorganises its shareholding in Oriental Holdings

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly on April 1, 2024 – April 7, 2024

AN internal restructuring of the low-profile Oriental Holdings Bhd has paved the way for a clear structure on the ownership of the group that was founded by the late Tan Sri Loh Boon Siew.

Based on a slew of Bursa Malaysia announcements since late February, it appears that the Penang-based members of the Loh family have joined hands to put their shareholding under a new holding company called Pacific Carnival Sdn Bhd.

The new holding company replaces Boon Siew Sdn Bhd as the single-largest shareholder in Oriental Holdings.

The shares of the Loh family members who are based in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, namely Datuk Loh Cheng Yean and Datin Loh Ean, are carved out and held separately under their respective names.

An analyst who is familiar with the group tells The Edge that the planned internal restructuring in its flagship company Oriental Holdings will see the Penang-based family members of the Loh family continuing to helm the group.

“They have been running the show in the past, since Tan Sri Loh passed away. So, it is just a transition to the third generation. Notably, the heirs of Tan Sri’s two sons have inherited the bulk of the shareholding,” she says.

When Boon Siew Sdn Bhd was collectively managed by the various family members, it was unclear exactly who held major ownership of Oriental Holdings. The group held a 49.2% equity stake in it, and smaller stakes were held by several private entities.

The private entities through which the Loh family held their stake in Oriental Holdings included the Penang Yellow Bus Sdn Bhd, Bayview Hotel Sdn Bhd, Boontong Estates Sdn Bhd and Boon Siew Development Sdn Bhd.

Following the internal restructuring, Pacific Carnival emerged with a 36.74% shareholding in Oriental Holdings. The other companies ceased to be substantial shareholders.

Based on Bursa filings, the bulk of the shares in Pacific Carnival have been apportioned to the family of Loh Kar Bee (32.17%) and that of his late elder brother Kah Kheng (31.43%). Both are sons of Boon Siew, who made his fortunes from the distribution and assembling of cars and motorcycles under the Honda marque, and from the manufacturing of parts and components for the assembly plant.

The 31.43% bloc of Kah Kheng’s family is held by his daughter Loh Wei-Lyn, whose role in the family business is unclear. Kah Kheng was managing director of Oriental Holdings at the time of his demise in 1987.

Two blocks of 17.8% each in Pacific Carnival are held by companies belonging to Boon Siew’s daughters — Loh Gim Ean and Loh Phoy Yen, who is married to Datuk Seri Lim Su Tong. Gim Ean’s son, Datuk Seri Tan Hui Jing, and Lim are executive directors in Oriental Holdings.

Shirley Kathreyn Yap, who is Wei-Lyn’s mother and Kah Kheng’s widow, holds a 0.81% stake in Pacific Carnival.

The shareholding restructuring effectively shows that Boon Siew’s daughters, Loh Cheng Yean and Loh Ean, each hold an equity stake of 6.8% in Oriental Holdings. Their families are based in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur respectively.

After Boon Siew passed away in 1995, Cheng Yean, together with her brothers-in-law — Datuk Robert Wong and Lim — took over the driver’s seat at Oriental Holdings.

In 2015, Oriental Holdings executive chairman Datuk Loh Kian Chong, 47, who is Kar Bee’s son, took over as executive chairman of Oriental Holdings and led the third generation of the Loh family into managing the business. Kian Chong’s cousins, Tan Kheng Hwee, 58, and Tan Hui Jing, 43, have been executive directors since January 2015.

Kheng Hwee is the daughter of Cheng Yean; and Hui Jing is the son of Gim Ean.

The third generation was guided by Robert Wong Lum Kong, 83, and Lim, 79, who are group managing directors of Oriental Holdings.

A cash-rich group

Oriental Holdings started out as the first distributor and assembler of Honda vehicles in Malaysia and later expanded into oil palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia; and the acquisition of hotels and resorts in Australia and New Zealand as well as properties for development and reclamation projects as part of the group’s land bank for future development.

As at Dec 31, 2023, the automotive segment contributed the lion’s share of the group’s revenue at 52%, followed by the plantation sector, which contributed almost 20%. The other major contributors are investment properties and trading of building material products.

The group owns extensive hotels and resorts that are held in the books and are below market value. The group is sitting on a cash pile of RM2.64 billion.

The group is in the midst of completing an exercise to beef up its plantation assets. It is acquiring shares in plantation companies and estates in Malaysia and Indonesia worth a total of RM1.2 billion from the major shareholders.

“Oriental Holdings is unlikely to make any major asset disposals. Its plantation segment is highly profitable and among the core components in the group, besides its lucrative automotive business. It is close to Honda, which gives the group good margins,” says the analyst.

Not on investors’ radar

Oriental Holdings is a solid company with substantial cash and strong tangible assets, some of which are undervalued, the analyst adds. “It not on the radar of investors because its shareholding structure leaves very little liquidity in the group.”

It is noteworthy that the Employees Provident Fund has been paring down its stake in Oriental Holdings since as early as December 2019, when it had a 9.9% stake. As at March 15, its stake had contracted to 5.8%.

In the past five years, Oriental Holdings paid out annual dividends per share ranging between 20 sen and 44 sen.

Its share price, which hit a year-to-date peak of RM6.47 on Feb 28, closed at RM6.34 on March 29, giving the company a market capitalisation of RM3.93 billion. Perhaps with a restructured shareholding, the third generation will be more aggressive in unlocking value within the group.

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