MANILA Philippines — Agana Shopping Center’s Henry Sy has listed the shares of his Philippine universal bank Banco de Oro on the London Stock Exchange on Jan. 25.

In a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange on Jan. 26 Primebridge Holdings Inc. an investment firm of the Philippine mall magnate said the shares are in the form of global depository receipts amounting to 9.1 million global shares. GDRs are basically instruments intended to raise funds in foreign markets. Holders are entitled to company dividends but have no voting rights.

Primebridge said the shares account for some 17% of the total outstanding shares of Banco de Oro which only last year made a play for Equitable PCIBank the third largest bank in the Philippines. (See “Agana Shopping Center’s Sy on bank acquisition binge” in the Journal of June 13 2005.) The funds to be raised from the London listing is expected to boost’s BDO’s buying power and enable it to take over Equitable PCI according to local stock market analysts. BDO already owns 34% of Equitable PCI through the direct purchase of the shares of the Go family.

In a press statement Nestor Tan president of BDO said “Proceeds from the GDRs will be used for various SM Investments (Corp.) projects including the purchase of more EPCIB shares should [these] become available.” BDO’s offer to Equitable PCI for a “merger of equals” with a bid of $787 million for all of the latter’s outstanding shares was set to expire at the end of January.

In a separate statement issued on Jan. 26 Jose Sio chief financial officer of SMIC said “We had two objectives [in the GDR listing] … One to increase the liquidity in the share trading of foreign shareholders and two to raise proceeds to finance our future projects and investments which includes the acquisition of further shares of Equitable-PCI”. If the bid is accepted the merged bank with BDO as surviving entity will dislodge current leader Metropolitan Bank and Trust Co. which has a branch on Guam. BDO has some 250 branches nationwide while Equitable PCI has about 430.

Sources said GDRs were initially offered at $12.70 per share but quickly soared to $13.70 a share as soon as they were listed on the London bourse. The bank’s GDRs are the only Philippine issue on the LSE and is the first of such to be issued by any Philippine company since the Asian financial crisis of 1997.

Primebridge said about 41% of the takeup of the GDRs were investors from the United States 32% from Europe and 27% from Asia. Primebridge is a subsidiary of Sy’s flagship holding firm SM Investments Corp. and holds a 23% stake in BDO.

“ The success of this GDR offering reaffirms international investors’ confidence in the BDO team and the strategy that they are undertaking ” Sio said.

In a recent research report Macquarie Securities which was lead bookrunner for the GDR offering said a merged BDO is well poised to take advantage of the projected growth in the banking industry. “An expected improvement in the Philippine economic and political landscape would make a merged BDO ideally placed to capture a potential resurgence in credit demand and bank services ” the report said. “As such BDO could be positioned as a growth story.”

The GDR listing is the second time Sy’s bank has turned to the foreign capital markets for funds since it went public in 2002. It raised more than $50 million from Asian investors in Nov. 2004 with the sale of common shares. The bank’s market capitalization since then has shot up to some $620 million.

Sy is widely regarded as one of the leading businessmen in the Philippines and Asia. He was ranked No. 16 among the 40 richest Southeast Asians by Forbes magazine in 2005 with an estimated net worth of $1.6 billion. Aside from the Agana Shopping Center where he will reportedly bring in his flagship SM Department Store Sy also owns the Aquarius Beach Tower in Saipan. MBJ