No merger? Henry Sy firm among top shareholders of RCBC

MANILA, Philippines – A firm led by the Sy family is among the top shareholders of Yuchengco-led Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC), although it has denied reports that it is contemplating a merger with one of its banks, China Banking Corporation (China Bank). 

Sybase Equity Investments Corporation, a privately held company associated with the Sy family, is listed among RCBC's top 100 stockholders as of March 31, 2017. It has over 23.5 million common shares of RCBC, equivalent to about a 1.7% stake. 

Sybase is the 2nd entity directly identifiable in RCBC's list, next to Pan Malayan Management and Investment Corporation, which is associated with the Yuchengco family and has almost 474 million shares. 

The Yuchengco-led bank is reportedly 40% owned by foreign investors, led by Cathay Life Insurance Company Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of the largest publicly-listed holding company in Taiwan. Other significant investors include the World Bank's International Finance Corporation. About 25% is owned by the public. 

According to China Bank's disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE), other Sy-led financial units that have acquired RCBC shares for unknown buyers include BDO Nomura, BDO Securities, and the trust banking groups of BDO Unibank and China Bank. BDO Securities holds 9,304 preferred shares of RCBC.

Reports surfaced over the weekend that the family conglomerate is contemplating merging its China Bank with RCBC.

"We wish to clarify that China Bank management is not aware of any negotiations with RCBC," China Bank said in its disclosure to the PSE on Monday, May 22.

RCBC also denied the reports in a separate disclosure. "RCBC is not in talks with anyone regarding the sale of majority shares or a merger."

"Information other than that disclosed by the bank is purely speculative," it added.

RCBC shares were up 4.83% at the end of trading on Monday, closing at P58.60, as the market reacted to the news despite the denials. 

The bank's share price has swung wildly in the past year following its involvement in the Bangladesh bank heist scandal for which it got fined a record P1 billion. Its share price plunged to P30.10 on May 31, 2016, at the height of investigations into the bank's role in the heist. Earlier this month, it reached P60.05, a 52-week high, pushing up its market capitalization to P78.3 billion.

RCBC also recently reported a net income of P1 billion for the 1st quarter of 2017, down from the P1.8 billion it recorded in the same period last year.

Talks on a possible sale of the bank were further fueled when Yuchengco patriarch, Alfonso Yuchengco, who is among the country's richest, passed away in April. 

RCBC had total assets of P521 billion as of December 31, 2016, while China Bank's was at P633 billion.

Similar acquisition style

The Sy family patriarch and the country's richest person, Henry Sy Sr, has been known to quietly buy up stakes in target firms in the past.

Sy Sr patiently acquired shares of the Dee-led China Bank in the open market for decades, even at premium prices. He had enough shares for a board seat in the 1970s, eventually acquiring enough shares to control the board as chairman in 2005.

Hans Sy, the son of Sy Sr, is currently the chairman of China Bank, which has been kept separate from the other Sy-led bank, BDO Unibank, the country's largest.

Sy Sr also accumulated shares in Ayala Corporation some decades ago though he failed to obtain a board seat even if he had enough shares to qualify as a director.

The Sys have kept a minority stake in Ayala Corporation. In the oldest conglomerate's top 20 stockholders as of March 2017, these Sy firms are included: Shoemart Incorporated (1.2% of Ayala Corporation), Sysmart Corporation (0.024%), and SM Investments Corporation (0.023%). 

Aside from remaining the Philippines' richest person, Sy Sr is also among the 100 richest men in the world with a net worth estimated at $12.7 billion.

The Sy family has also acquired various stakes in companies it said it had no intention of taking over. These include a 34% stake in businessman Injap Sia's community mall network, CityMall, and in the entity that owns 5 office towers of the Rufino family's Net Group in the Bonifacio Global City business district in Taguig. – with research from Sofia Tomacruz / Rappler.com