Petronas: Malaysia's torchbearer

Malaysia's largest company could be worth up to $207 billion if it listed in its entirety, making it almost equal to Malaysia's total market capitalisation.
Petronas could be the saving grace for the nation’s stock market -- listing it in its entirety would make investors smile.
Petronas could be the saving grace for the nation’s stock market -- listing it in its entirety would make investors smile.

Petronas is Malaysia's premier state-owned company, but as a publicly owned company it could be worth more than $200 billion and would dominate the country's stockmarket.

According to Deutsche Bank, Petronas could potentially make up 40% of Malaysia's weighting in the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index if it was to list in its entirety (MSCI is a free float-adjusted market capitalisation index that is designed to measure the equity market performance of countries in the region).

Based on a price-to-earnings ratio of 15 times, Petronas could be worth up to $207 billion, according to Investment and Pensions Europe. This would make Malaysia's largest state-owned company close to the same size as the country's total equity market capitalisation today, almost doubling the total market size to $464 billion from $257 billion.

Publicly listing more of Petronas's operations, say analysts and market participants, is critical to stimulating greater growth in the markets. According to Deutsche, if the government were to release a proposed 25% of its equity share, it could potentially bring Malaysia's weighting back on par with Singapore, which currently accounts for 6.6% of the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index. It would also put the country ahead of its biggest regional competitors, such as Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. Malaysia currently holds a weighting of 3.8%, but the addition of more Petronas shares to the market could raise this to 6.4%.

To put this into another context, if the government chose to only release a further 20% of its equity interest in the company's downstream operations, such as its LNG [liquid natural gas] and refinery businesses, it could result in an increase to $191 billion from $79 billion of Malaysia's MSCI weighting.

Petronas's total listed assets on Bursa Malaysia currently have a total market capitalisation of $5.62 billion. Within the holdings group, the companies that have been listed are MISC, Petronas Dagangan, Petronas Gas and KLCC Property Holdings.

In April this year, MISC, which is a key subsidiary and specialist in global marine transportation and logistics services, hired J.P. Morgan, Maybank and Credit Suisse for the listing of its marine engineering unit Malaysia Marine and Heavy Engineering (MMHE). Its IPO is now scheduled to take place in September. This follows a $1.5 billion rights issue for MISC in February, arranged by RHB Capital. A market capitalisation of about M$7 billion ($2.2 billion) is expected for MMHE, assuming a net profit of M$350 million and the company being listed at a price-to-earnings ratio of 21 times, according to analysts.

The announcement to list MMHE came as a surprise to some analysts. OSK Research, for example, had expected Petronas to list parts of its petrochemicals business instead, specifically Petronas Carigali and Malaysia LNG. OSK Research had calculated that the market capitalisation of Petronas's petrochemicals companies would be about M$50 billion ($15.1 billion). This is based on a 2009 net profit of M$5 billion for these two companies and the assumption that the shares would be listed at a price-to-earnings ratio of 10 times. Within the petrochemicals sector, a M$50 billion market cap dwarfs the local peers.

While the listing of MMHE is good news, from the analysts' perspective there is much more value for Petronas and the market if it was to list its more profitable downstream operations, such as the petrochemicals, LNG and refinery businesses. A partial listing of this nature would push Malaysia's Asia ex-Japan MSCI market capitalisation to $123 billion and the country's weighting to 5.95%.

Investors and analysts are pushing for such a listing because a move to further publicly list parts of its operations could result in other Malaysia-based companies following suit.

Staying competitive

According to Dealogic figures, the Malaysian primary equity market reached its zenith in 2002 when it raised $1.65 billion. By 2008, this volume had dropped drastically to $174 million. If you look at other signposts, such as foreign direct investment (FDI), the nation is falling behind its peers. AmResearch estimates that 35.4% of FDI flows into Southeast Asia went to Malaysia in 1980, while less than 1% went to Vietnam. By 2008, both countries attracted about $8 billion in FDI each.

However, with the roll-out of the so-called New Economic Model and a commitment by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak to lift the country from a middle-income to a high-income economy by 2020, the markets appear to be on the mend.

Many of the government incentives are aimed at attracting FDI. Previously, if a company was to list on the Bursa Malaysia, only a maximum of 40% could be held by foreign investors. Now, in certain sectors, foreigners can own as much as 70%. Plus, non-Malaysian investors can own 100% of a commercial property asset, if it is bought from a non-Bumiputra controlled entity.

Simply, reforms like this not only expand the investor pool but also potentially attract a more seasoned investor-base into the country.

This article was first published in the June 2010 issue of FinanceAsia magazine.

Photo provided by AFP.

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