SPH says balance sheet remains strong despite coronavirus crisis

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SINGAPORE – Singapore Press Holdings () is well-placed to sustain the impact from a prolonged , the company said in a Singapore Exchange filing on Thursday (April 23).

The firm said it has a healthy cash buffer, with an additional drawdown of $325 million credit and ample liquidity.

Its cash balances have risen 60 per cent from February to about $800 million.

It will also refinance a sole term loan due this financial year with no further loans due until June next year.

The company is receiving $46 million in various Government Budget support measures, with the bulk from the Jobs Support Scheme to provide wage support to employers.

SPH’s various newspapers have recorded an increase in subscriptions in recent months.

The Straits Times news tablet, Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao and Malay language paper Berita Harian drove digital circulation growth of 50 per cent in the six months to Feb 29.

But newspaper distribution is being affected by the availability of manpower, SPH said. The company is using alternative means to supplement the print distribution workforce and promote digital subscriptions.

The SPH real estate investment trust is also offering further rental rebates for its retail properties.

Rebates amounting to about $4.6 million have been granted to affected tenants, with the trust considering an extension of support in view of the extended circuit breaker period.

But purpose-built student accommodation in Britain will see a drop in revenue from rental refunds of £4.5 million (S$8 million), at the lower end of the expected range of £4 million to £8 million.

About 20 per cent of this figure comes from credits, with no impact on cash flow.

Bookings remained at 60 per cent as of April 20, higher than the same period last year, with steady applications since universities are anticipated to start on time despite the coronavirus outbreak.

Construction also continues on assets in Oxford and Brighton, with bookings still coming in for those properties.

Chief executive Ng Yat Chung said: “SPH is providing operational updates to its shareholders amidst the fluid Covid-19 situation.

“Last night, it published corporate updates across its key business segments to improve investors’ understanding. These include details on its digital subscription growth within the media business, purpose-built student accommodation, retail and financing activities.

“Where appropriate, we will release updates from time to time and hope that shareholders find them useful.”

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