Nov 26, 2020 Last Updated 3:47 AM, Nov 26, 2020

Papua New Guinea’s regional bank BSP will revisit an earlier plan to list on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX). 

In a message to shareholders last week informing them on the progress of the company, BSP Group chairman Kostas Constantinou said dual listing will be part of its strategic plan moving forward, which, after COVID-19, would likely involve expansion into Asia.

BSP is currently listed on the Port Moresby Stock Exchange (PomSox). 

“As you would be aware BSP had previously pursued a dual listing on the ASX. There were various reasons as to why this did not proceed. BSP’s Board and Executive team, in conjunction with Deloitte, recently conducted a Strategy Workshop to confirm the Banks strategic intentions over the coming term. Those deliberations confirmed that when the circumstances are favourable BSP should once again pursue a dual listing,” Constantinou said. 

“Unlike the previous attempt, which was primarily focused on share liquidity, a future dual listing would be used to position BSP for potential capital raisings to fund offshore growth opportunities. A dual listing in the future, accompanied by a targeted growth program in Australasia, will deliver our shareholders significant financial benefits whilst increasing the value of the bank. In summary, BSP’s well-capitalised balance sheet enables the Board to consider appropriate growth opportunities that do not pose an unacceptable risk whilst adding value to our shareholders, customers, staff and Papua New Guinea.”

BSP’s interest in ASX was widely reported in the Papua New Guinea and Australian media in 2016 but later, it revealed the plan was on hold.

“The Board of BSP is continuing its consideration of initiatives to generate greater liquidity in BSP shares. BSP has not ruled out undertaking a secondary listing on the Australian Securities Exchange (Potential Listing), but is not currently of the view that there will be a significant public offer of shares in conjunction with the Potential Listing,” Constantinou had said in a statement filed at PomSox in April 2017. 

Last week, the confirmation that it would revisit the option had accompanied the result of a research it commissioned into how it fared under a number of metrics that global banks use to measure each other’s performance. 

The metrics were: Return on Assets, Return on Equity, Net Interest Margin and Efficiency Ratio.

“In all four Key Performance Measures BSP, is placed in the top quartile for similar banks globally, and the Bank significantly outperforms the average and median results for its peers. These results should provide our shareholders with the confidence of knowing BSP is outperforming comparative banks and is well placed to grow from a position of operational strength,” said Constantinou.

With the drastic slowdown in the global economy due to COVID-19, Constantinou said long term thinking was now critical for survival.

“I believe long-term thinking has never been more critical than it is today. Companies and investors with a strong sense of purpose and a long-term approach will be better able to navigate the Covid-19 crisis and its aftermath. This includes taking a strategic view of our region and the role we want BSP to play in it. The economy will recover. And for those who keep their eyes not on the shaky ground at our feet, but on the horizon ahead, there will be tremendous opportunities to be had,” he said.

BSP recently announced a profit after tax of Kina381.9million (US$108.5million) for the half year ended June 2020, down from Kina434.9million (US$123m) for the same period last year.   

Last week, it announced a consolidated net profit after tax of K216m (US$61.5m) for the 2020 third quarter, a 31 percent increase from Q2, 2020.

BSP has branches in Vanuatu, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Fiji, Cook Islands and is headquartered in PNG. 

The PNG government has approved and agreed to provide K100m (US$28.5 million) to kick start the country’s first Special Economic Zone, creating up to half a million jobs directly and indirectly in the country when it is fully operational. And there will be a role for other Pacific nations.

The Ihu Special Economic Zone (ISEZ) is located in Kikori District of Gulf Province, about from 45 minutes by air from the capital, Port Moresby and is expected to take 10-15 years to complete.

It will consist of a free trade zone, petroleum park with petrochemical plan, industrial zone, technology park, forestry park, marine park, a deep sea port and airport, a township with hotels and resorts, and a government and administration area, Peter KenGemar, the ISEZ Project Director has told Islands Business.

Read more in our November issue.

Fiji’s Amalgamated Telecom Holdings’ (ATH) recent US$25 million investment from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to finance a greenfield 4G mobile network in Papua New Guinea, is a vote of confidence in the regional telecommunications powerhouse.

ATH has operations in Fiji, Kiribati, Vanuatu, Samoa, American Samoa, and Cook Islands, but the PNG venture is by far its biggest play.  While dominant in Fiji through its Vodafone, Telecom, FINTEL and Fiji Directories businesses, and listed on the stock exchange there, 22% of its earnings are generated outside the country.

That is set to expand considerably. The ABD estimates only 11% of Papua New Guinea’s population is able to connect to the internet. ATH Chief Executive Officer Ivan Fong says they’ve looked at PNG with the ADB before, but with Australia’s funding of the Coral Sea cable, falling satellite prices and Kumul Consolidated Holdings’ construction of domestic fibre and transmission networks, the timing was right to deliver a “last mile” project to reach businesses and consumers—the coronavirus pandemic notwithstanding.

“ We acknowledge that there are three operators in that market and they serve that market to varying degrees, but when you look at the business surveys …in the last few years telecommunications has been creeping up there to the top [as a challenge]. So we think there is an opportunity to provide an uplift to the services in that market and to potentially modernise some of what consumers can have in the country as well.”

Read more in Islands Business online.

Trailblazing, hardworking, audacious, always vivacious and sometimes controversial were among tributes and recollections shared of Papua New Guinea and Manus political pioneer, Nahau Rooney who passed away on Tuesday 15th September.

Rooney was one of three women elected at PNG’s first post-Independence elections in 1977  to its 109 member national parliament. She was re-elected in 1982 as the regional member for Manus province.

The news of Rooney’s death arrived as the nation and former politicians met to celebrate PNG’s 45th Independence anniversary.

Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare, in whose cabinet  Rooney served as justice minister, described her as a “hardworking female Papua New Guinean” during his term as prime minister.

Rooney drew controversy during her early career when, as Minister for Justice in 1979, she was sentenced by the Supreme Court to eight months in jail for interfering with the administration of justice.

Sir Michael gave a slight smile as he recalled how he overturned the decision.

He said: “She was my first cabinet minister. Even though she was jailed I took her out of jail.

“She was a wonderful woman and she worked very hard for Papua New Guinea.

“I feel sorry for the Manus people especially her family. Manus has lost a great leader in Nahau.

“She performed very well as a woman and she showed that women in Papua New Guinea can do something. My wife (Lady Veronica) and I know her personally,” Sir Michael told Gynnie Gelu, the Editor of the National in Moresby.

A former UN Women Pacific Regional Director, who spent decades working with PNG women’s rights and women farmers’ organisations and networks herself,  Elizabeth Cox recalls, “Nahau Rooney was  an energetic member of the early post-independence governments that made genuine efforts to catalyse constitutional promises of equality, participation and a focus  on rural development.

“Sir Michael Somare believed in Nahau. Her female peers were inspired by her and she enjoyed the support of a loving husband, happy to let her shine while he worked hard at home in Manus researching disease in staple food crops and building their family’s small business.” 

Rooney supported many good causes along the way, and was a leading advocate for women to organise and raise their collective voices.  She was a constant and inspiring presence at conferences and workshops to encourage women’s participation in PNG politics. Climate change and its impact on the environment in Manus and elsewhere in PNG and the Pacific were among her many passions and worries. “She was against destructive logging and fishing and as early as 2001, protested the Australian government moves to make her beloved home a prison for asylum seekers,” Cox recalls.

PNG Governor General Sir Bob Dadae also expressed sadness over the news of the passing of Rooney while using the opportunity to acknowledge PNG women’s leadership and encouraging their rightful place in PNG politics. “As the first female politician of our country soon after our independence, Rooney demonstrated early on to the womenfolk that women too can become politicians and be involved in decision making, a task that is, in our society, traditionally performed by the men,” Sir Bob said.

“She held various ministerial portfolios during her political career and was not one to hold back from freely expressing her opinion. She set the benchmark for women at a time when women’s role in society was relegated to the home and not in decision making for the nation as a politician and minister of state.

 “To the people of Manus, Rooney demonstrated to the rest of the country the potential of what the women of Manus can achieve,” said Sir Bob.

Rooney was married to Wes Rooney, an Australian, who was later murdered (shot dead) on Manus. In the 2000s, retired from politics, her environmental and women’s rights activism continued, while she ran a family guest lodge on Manus Island.

In 2006, Rooney was honoured with the title of the Companion of the Order of the Star of Melanesia. “Nahau leaves us with an important legacy, one that challenges us all to do as much as she did to build a stronger women’s movement in PNG, to get more women into parliament and to make the voices of PNG’s post-independence daughters heard in the region and in the world,” said Cox.

Ms Rooney is survived by her children, Kevin, Michelle, Poyap, Gabriel, Nawes, Eva, and many grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Gynnie Kero is currently the news editor with PNG’s daily newspaper the National.

Sadhana Sen is the Regional Communications Advisor for the Development Policy Centre at ANU.

Westpac says it will not respond to speculation in Australian media this week that it is on the verge of selling its Pacific businesses.

A Westpac Fiji spokesperson says the Bank “is currently undertaking strategic review of its specialist businesses, as we shared with the market in May. This includes wealth platforms, superannuation products, investments, general and life insurance and auto finances well as Westpac Pacific.

“Given this, there is going to be ongoing speculation circulating – as there has been since Westpac sold some Pacific operations in 2015. Westpac does not respond to speculation and, as always, if there is news to share about our business, our people and customers will hear it from us.”

On Monday, The Australian newspaper [paywall]  reported that it had information Westpac was close to selling its Pacific banking operations, and that while the buyer’s identity was unclear, “logical acquirers” would be either the Papua New Guinea-headquartered Bank South Pacific (BSP) or France’s BRED.

Westpac sold its Samoa, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Tonga operations to BSP in 2015. It retains operations in Fiji and PNG.

In May this year, Westpac announced statutory net profit was down 62% (A$1,190 million) for the first half of 2020, compared to the first half of 2019. In a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange it said it was clear that Westpac needed to “simplify and focus on its Australian and New Zealand banking businesses,” and that a Specialist Businesses division under the leadership of Jason Yetton would review Westpac’s Pacific businesses, superannuation, wealth investments, insurance and auto finance.

“Over the coming months we will conduct a detailed strategic review on the best option for these businesses. This will include considering whether they would ultimately be more successful under different ownership” the Bank said in May.

Meanwhile in Fiji, “customers can be assured that we are here to help and continue  our support to people and communities across Fiji, including through our COVID-19 customer assistance package,” the Westpac Fiji spokesperson says.

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