Lee Rubber on land selling trail in Malaysia

IN less than two years, Singapore-based Lee Rubber Co (Pte) Ltd has divested itself of at least four assets in Malaysia, namely in Johor, Kuala Lumpur and Penang. The group is expected to dispose of two more properties in the coming months.

The rationale behind the recent spate of divestments remains unknown in the real estate circles.

Industry sources say the move may signal Lee Rubber’s exit from Malaysia or that the land no longer serves its original purpose. A couple of industry players suggest that the sales may be tax-related.

A Lee Rubber representative in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Ng Wai Hung, who is said to be in charge of the company’s assets in Malaysia, did not respond to questions emailed by The Edge.

Based on announcements and media reports, since April 2015, Lee Rubber has signed deals to sell the four properties valued at more than RM300 million. Two of the properties are in Johor. Also on the cards is the sale of two other assets — one in Kuala Lumpur and the other in Penang — that could potentially fetch between RM210 million and RM290 million.

“It appears as if they [Lee Rubber] are exiting the country,” an industry observer tells The Edge, echoing the thoughts of at least two other real estate agents.

But one real estate agent, who declined to be named, offers a different view. “Lee Rubber had previously maintained that if the price was right, it would consider a sale. It may be consolidating and taking up the good offers,” he says.

It is common for landowners — especially those with a history that goes back to the 1920s and that own vast tracts — to look at their assets and undertake an optimisation exercise, he adds. “If it is not possible to develop the land or if it is too small or has reached a certain price on the market, it is best to sell. The money from these disposals can be used to fund other projects.”

Moreover, because Lee Rubber has a large portfolio of assets in Malaysia, these recent sales may be just a drop in the ocean. Lee Rubber is believed to have land across the country, from Johor to Kedah.

A 2008 booklet issued by Iskandar Regional Development Authority states that Lee Rubber had formed a joint venture with Johor Corp and the Employees Provident Fund to develop the 456-acre Johor Technology Park. It also says the company has a further 6,100 acres, comprising a 2,900-acre township being developed at Taman Impian Emas on a joint-venture basis with Kuok Group and another company, and 3,200 acres in Senai and Skudai.

Recent asset divestments

Early last year, Lee Rubber completed the sale of the Lee Rubber Building located at the corner of Jalan Tun H S Lee in Kuala Lumpur. The then 85-year-old building was sold to Singapore-owned GF Land Sdn Bhd for RM29 million.

During the British era, the four-storey building held the distinction of being the tallest in Kuala Lumpur. Subsequently, another floor was added and today it has a total built-up of 46,607 sq ft and a net lettable area of 38,126 sq ft.

A search on the Companies Commission of Malaysia (SSM) website shows that GF Land is a Johor-registered company that is wholly owned by Hillington Pte Ltd. Its directors are Tony Con-Ling Chen, Justin Kenny Chen and Robert Conway Chen.

Towards the end of last year, Lee Rubber’s wholly owned Dhalia Utama Sdn Bhd entered into a deal to sell two parcels of land measuring 121.19 acres in Kulai, Johor, for RM123.64 million to Scientex Bhd’s subsidiary Scientex Quatari Sdn Bhd. Scientex is planning a mixed-use development on the land.

Four months ago, Sime Darby Bhd announced that its subsidiary Glengowrie Rubber Co Sdn Bhd had signed an agreement to dispose of two parcels measuring 805 acres in Hulu Langat, Selangor, for RM428.84 million to Petaling Garden Sdn Bhd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of I&P Group Sdn Bhd. Glengowrie’s shareholders are Sime Darby Property Bhd (78.72%), Chermang Development (Malaya) Sdn Bhd (17.43%), Platform Securities Nominees Ltd (1.71%), foreign national Jacob Ballas (1.71%) and Judith Maisie Price Robinson & Thomas William (0.43%).

An SSM search on Chermang Development reveals that Sime Darby Plantation holds a 83.92% stake in the company while Lee Rubber holds the rest. This effectively gives Lee Rubber a 2.8% stake in the company that sold the 805-acre tract. Based on the sale price alone, Lee Rubber’s portion is around RM12 million.

Meanwhile, a sale and purchase agreement initialled by Lee Rubber and Iskandar Waterfront City Bhd in April 2015 is expected to be finalised by the end of this month, after several extensions. Bahagia Wangsa Sdn Bhd sold 67.54 acres in Taman Sutera Utama in Pulai, Johor Baru, to Bayou Management Sdn Bhd for RM155.94 million.

The shareholders of Bahagia Wangsa are Lee Plantations (Pte) Ltd (98%) and Lee Foundation (1%), Rahmat Mohd Salleh (0.5%) and Amirudin Aziz (0.5%). The purchaser, Bayou Management, is wholly owned by Bayou Development Sdn Bhd, which in turn is owned by Iskandar Waterfront City.