Top investor Temasek willing to give StanChart time for turnaround

By Saeed Azhar

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Temasek is willing to give Standard Chartered time to work on its turnaround before deciding on the fate of its underperforming $4 billion (3 billion pounds) stake in the UK bank as part of a portfolio reshuffle, people familiar with the matter said.

Pressured by weak returns from low interest rates and a commodities rout, the Singapore state investor is taking a hard look at its $190 billion portfolio and may exit unprofitable assets, these people told Reuters.

This approach was evident last week when Temasek [TEM.UL] sold at below book value a controlling stake in shipping firm Neptune Orient Lines (NOL) , its biggest disposal since 2009.

Standard Chartered (StanChart), in which Temasek is the biggest shareholder with an 18 percent stake, has launched a painful restructuring under new CEO Bill Winters after being hit by bad loans in emerging markets and suffering a 70 percent tumble in its shares over the past two-and-a-half years.

"Temasek is giving them time. They've had a lot of engagement with the board, and Bill has sort of managed expectations in terms of turning this ship around," said one of the people familiar with Temasek's thinking.

Temasek declined to comment.

It was not clear how long Temasek will wait to see the results of the restructuring.

By subscribing this month to its allotted portion of Standard Chartered's $5 billion share sale, the Singapore investor has buttressed that position for now. But Temasek may become increasingly uncomfortable with the investment if shares in the bank do not recover.

Its paper loss on the Standard Chartered investment was $1.2 billion, excluding dividends, just on the 12 percent stake it bought in 2006, according to calculations by Reuters. Temasek raised its stake to 18 percent in December 2007. Since then Standard Chartered's shares have lost about two-thirds of their value.

"Clearly, Temasek wants to pro-actively manage its underperforming portfolio and get rid of stocks that are causing pain," said one Hong Kong-based banker who works closely with Temasek, which is headed by Ho Ching, wife of the current prime minister of Singapore. "That means even the Standard Chartered stake could be on the block if a right solution comes around."


The size of Temasek's portfolio has doubled since it lost $40 billion during the global financial crisis of 2008/2009 due to losses on Western banks such as Bank of America .

But returns lagged Temasek's own internal metric of making gains above the cost of capital in five out of the last eight financial years, its annual reports show.

A concentration of investments in a few large-cap stocks mostly in Singapore and China limits its ability to outperform.

Ten companies, including Singapore Telecommunications , Singapore's biggest lender DBS Group and China Construction Bank <0939.HK>, account for half of its assets.

To boost returns, Temasek could sell some underperforming assets, such as Jakarta's No. 6 lender Bank Danamon and the rail business of Singapore train and taxi operator SMRT , a senior Southeast Asian banker said.

Danamon, which is 68 percent owned by Temasek, is trading below its book value and its return on equity is the second-weakest among Indonesia's top 10 lenders over the last financial year, according Thomson Reuters data.

SMRT is under pressure after suffering a series of operational breakdowns.

Bertrand Jabouley, credit analyst at Standard & Poor's, said that even though the timing of the NOL disposal seemed suboptimal given the ongoing crisis in the sector, Temasek may want to use the proceeds for more profitable investments.

"They may have much more profitable investment opportunities in their pipeline to put the disposal proceeds to work," he said.

($1 = 1.4068 Singapore dollars)

(Additional reporting by Denny Thomas in HONG KONG and Patturaja Murugaboopathy in BANGALORE; Editing by Lisa Jucca and Muralikumar Anantharaman)