Monday, July 16, 2007

ST: Ex-remisier king Peter Lim back in the spotlight with Rowsley deal

Ex-remisier king Peter Lim back in the spotlight with Rowsley deal

Lee Su Shyan, Assistant Money Editor
Mon, Jul 16, 2007
The Straits Times

HE HAS been known as the remisier king for years, but given his new-found zest for solar energy, perhaps Sun King ought to be Peter Lim's new title.
But that might not work either, given the vast fortune he has squeezed out of palm oil.

There is one thing you can bank on: Mr Lim is not getting his head turned by come-hither looks from the hot property sector; stocks are still his thing.

'I'm an equity person,' he told The Straits Times. 'With equities, you don't know how the story will end. But when the market turns, you can sell your shares and get out in three days. You don't need to know the buyer.'

Try that with bricks and mortar: 'With a house, you put it on the market, buyers come and criticise it, pay you a deposit, and three months later, don't even settle.'

While he counts some of the country's top property players among his friends, real estate development is just a matter of 'timing', he insists; the rest is up to architects and engineers.

Mr Lim, 54, is back in the spotlight following his bid to use Rowsley to swallow a huge China solar power firm, but he will always be remembered in financial circles as the guy who made as much as $100 million in just six years as a remisier.

His clients included then Indonesian president Suharto's son, Bambang, and then Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad's son, Mokhzani.

Mr Lim called it quits in 1996 at the height of the bull run and retired from Kay Hian James Capel amid a messy divorce from his wife.

He is still retired - sort of. Deals still hold an allure for him, like the one involving his mainboard-listed Rowsley, which has a market capitalisation of around $145 million.

The company announced in May that it was going to gobble up the business of a solar cell manufacturer, China-based Perfect Field, for $2.7 billion - a deal that would be Singapore's largest-ever reverse takeover and one that has left some investors sceptical.

He is enthusiastic about the solar energy sector. 'There is no doubt there is global warming. Our island is going to disappear.'

'China has been criticised as being the world's biggest polluter. This sector can grow very fast. Look at Nasdaq: Companies in that sector are trading at 40 or 50 times earnings. Whoever is the first mover will have the advantage.'

Whether the Rowsley deal will score remains to be seen, but Mr Lim will have few worries, given his stellar investments.

One, a stake in fashion retailer FJ Benjamin, has grown from about $13 million to $60 million over five years.

But that is small change compared with the stake he took in 1991 in a firm founded by sugar king Robert Kuok's nephew Kuok Khoon Hong that eventually grew into palm oil giant Wilmar International.

Wilmar, which listed here last year, has a market value of $22.1 billion, making Mr Lim's stake of just under 5 per cent worth about $1 billion.

He admits that his vast return on an investment that was only in the region of US$10 million (S$15.1 million) is like 'a fairytale'.

'I can't say I invested in the right company, because at that time, there was only a vision. The potential palm oil plantations were just swamplands,' he said.

'It was at the Equatorial Hotel. I spent a few hours with (the younger) Mr Kuok. This man made me feel very inadequate. He had a vision, and could explain, step by step, how to attain this vision.'

But that 'quality face time' is in a nutshell how Mr Lim decides on all his investments.

'I must see his face. The person should be master of his trade, and should be honest.'

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