Saturday, September 13, 2008

Remisier kings

Sep 13, 2008
The Business Times
By Ven Sreenivasan & Jamie Lee

For years, the words 'remisier king' and Peter Lim have always appeared in the same sentence. Of late, though, the title has been tweaked. Now, Mr Lim is called 'ex-remisier king'. Reason? The mantle has passed and there is now a new king in town. Or rather two of them.

Just like their predecessor, who once rewarded each member of his trading team with a Lexus car, the new kings have the golden touch. Other investors watch their moves, and their name, when linked with a particular company or stock, creates a buzz.

UOB Kay Hian's David Loh, 45, and Han Seng Juan, 46, have made the remisier throne their own over the past five years.

Known as 'The A-Team' or 'The Dream Team', these two star brokers are maternal cousins. They struck gold by seizing control of the Chinese IPO space here - and not letting go. As soon as the Singapore Exchange laid out a red carpet for Chinese companies to list here, the two walked right over it.

Asked how many IPOs (initial public offerings) he and his cousin have handled, Mr Loh responded: 'I really can't remember, but probably over 150 in the last couple of years.'

They are casual kings, too. Managing one entire floor full of traders at UOB Kay Hian, they often show up dressed in T-shirt and jeans - sometimes even shorts.

But their legend is growing by the day and when their firm's brokers meet newbies in the business, they are often accosted with awe-inspired questions about 'David and Han'.

People want to know: What are they like? How do they do deals? Market talk has it that the easy-going cousins have had a hand in nearly three out of every four S-chip listings. And in the process, they are said to have made a fortune which could put them at par with the US$1.1 billion which Forbes magazine reckons Mr Lim is worth.

Stories about their jet-setting lifestyle abound in market circles and there are rumours of them splurging on BMWs for their trading teams.

But in an exclusive and first-ever media interview, the duo insisted stories of their flying around in private jets were hugely exaggerated.

'We generally fly with Singapore Airlines and the last time we checked, we had not bought the airline,' laughed Mr Loh. 'So I'd take all that talk about us jetting everywhere in private jets with a bagful of salt. And no, we haven't bought beemers for our staff, though I'm sure they wish we would.'

Added Mr Han: 'You know how the market has a knack for making some people out to be bigger than they really are. Yes, we have had good times, but we've also gone through some bad ones. But I suppose the success stories sell better.'

Of course, the latest story doing the rounds about them is about how they were fined $5,000 each by the Monetary Authority of Singapore for late declaration of their shareholdings in some three dozen firms. The delays stretched from four days to 44 months. It comes, perhaps, from having their fingers in so many pies.

'There is no doubt this was an oversight on our part, and there is no excuse for it,' said Mr Han. 'But we set up many Special Purpose Vehicles for investments, and have a standard operating procedure within our company for reporting these. Obviously we fell short, and have rectified the reporting process.'

He added that the mistakes arose largely due to oversight and their unfamiliarity with the legal regulatory requirements, and mostly involved investments in private companies. Since then, they have set up compliance teams to ensure against a repeat.

He stressed: 'We have complied with all our SGX disclosure requirements in respect of our investments in listed entities.'

The cousins joined the industry in the late eighties as fresh university graduates. Mr Han started out in UOB Securities, while Mr Loh was at Phillip Securities, and later joined UOB Kay Hian in 1996. Mr Loh then went to Hong Kong to set up the broking firm's office there, while his cousin stayed in Singapore.

It was during this time that they built up relationships with institutional clients and corporates in Hong Kong and China which were to come in so handy later.

The scores of China IPOs they led into Singapore during the boom years sometimes debuted at almost double their offer price. The duo often invested in these companies themselves - a move that no doubt paid off big time.

'We invest in these companies prior to their listing to help them grow their businesses and raise their profile,' explained Mr Han. 'It's also about putting our money where our mouth is. You don't go around telling people to invest while you yourself shy away.'

They continue to invest in new listings, such as recent debutante crocodile skin specialist Heng Long International, through their investment vehicle Centurion Investment Management. And despite the market turbulence and poor IPO sentiment, the duo still see investment opportunities.

'Markets go through cycles, and one has to ride through these cycles and believe in the fundamentals,' Mr Loh said. 'I believe that in a market like this, where valuations have fallen through the floor, there is opportunity to sieve for value.'

But he warns that it will be a rough ride during the near term.

'Cash is still king and don't rush to buy,' he added. 'The market is not going to bounce in a short time. Hold cash and slowly pick up the best medium and long-term deals you can. Go for sizeable companies, with strong earnings stories and good growth potential. We believe Chinese businesses will again play an important role in Singapore IPOs.'

One of their biggest corporate deals was the half a billion dollars they raised for China Hongxing Sports last year, via the placement of the sports shoes and apparel maker's shares at $1.18 each.

They continue to invest and have bought a stake in Trump Dragon Distillers Holdings, maker of a popular rice wine in China, which listed last week through their corporate finance company Boulton Capital Asia. The stock bucked the market's slide on debt to close at 36 cents - up five cents from its IPO price.

The duo have diversified into property over the past year, two of their better known transactions being the purchase of foreign worker dormitories in Jurong for $60 million and snapping up the Kovan site last year for a cool $290 million for a condominium development. For the latter, done through Centurion, they beat back long-established property players such as Far East Organization, Hong Leong Holdings and Frasers Centrepoint. Though they did attract criticism for paying 'too much' for the Kovan Residences site, they contend that they are not concerned with short-term cycles.

They have also started investing in properties in Vietnam and China.

Meanwhile, when they are not entertaining clients and associates at some of the finest restaurants in town or uncorking the most expensive vintages, or cruising around in their Ferraris, or jetting off to some exotic location, the duo spend much of their time with their families.

The proud fathers - Mr Han has one son, while Mr Loh has four children - enjoy holidaying with their families, flying them to various idyllic destinations, including their favourite ski slopes in Japan.

'Our work requires us to spend too much time away from home and our families,' said Mr Loh. 'But you know, at the end of the day, it is our families which are the centre of our lives.'

It is a tough juggling act, no doubt, but the new kings know how to keep the balls in the air.