Malaysian media are speculating on how local company Hong Leong Company (Malaysia) Bhd’s intends to prosper from buying into UK Internet and land casino and bingo-club operator, Rank Group plc, as the Malaysian company closes in on the 30 percent shareholding level that requires that a takeover offer is made. Billionaire businessman Tan Sri Quek Leng Chan, who heads Hong Leong has steadily increased the company's holding in Rank since February this year with the latest buys increasing his stake in Rank to 22.3 percent, effectively making him the UK company's biggest stakeholder.
Hong Leong’s interest in Rank is held via units of subsidiary and Hong Kong-listed Guoco Group Ltd, and the incremental buys, along with those of another Malaysian company, Genting Berhad (which owns 11 percent) have fuelled rumours of a bidding war, something which Genting has consistently denied.
Hong Leong’s initial venture into UK’s [land] gaming industry, the Clermont Club casino, has hardly been stellar. The company has not been doing well following its acquisition from Rank for GBP 31 million in 2006 through Hong Leong's hospitality and leisure arm, Guoco Leisure Ltd. Apparently Hong Leong had aggressively applied for casino licences in the UK, most of which have been rejected; the company currently owns three casino licenses.
One analyst told The Edge Daily in Malaysia: “Although Rank was a cheap buy, gaming is not Hong Leong’s expertise. We are uncertain why Hong Leong is continuing to pursue the business."
Rank continues to feel the pain of of taxation, regulation and subdued economic conditions. For the six months to June 30, 2008, the land and online gambling group reported revenues of GBP 257 million, a drop of GBP 27.6 million on the same period in 2007, resulting in profit before tax that was halved to GBP 17.6 million.
Rank chief executive Ian Burke had said: “During the first half of 2008, we succeeded in stabilising the group’s financial performance, following a very difficult end to last year. “Although group revenue and operating profit were substantially lower than in the first six months of last year, our performance reflects a significant improvement compared with the second half of 2007. The trading environment for all of our businesses remains challenging, with rising operating costs and increased financial pressures on our customers.”
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