TAIWAN: China Times Group is sold to Want Want

Want Want chairman's family buys 51 percent stake in media conglomerate through holding company

Taipei Times
Wednesday, November 5, 2008

By Lisa Wang

Want Want China Holdings Ltd announced yesterday that its chairman, Tsai Eng-meng, and his family had agreed to acquire financially troubled local media syndicate China Times Group.

The China Times Group confirmed the sale in a statement late last night.

The surprise announcement came amid speculation that Hong Kong's Next Media Group was in talks to take over the nearly six-decade-old group, one of the country's biggest.

Want Want China is the Hong Kong-listed unit of Taiwan's Want Want Group, the nation's biggest rice cake and flavored drinks maker. The company makes about 90 percent of its revenue by selling rice crackers, snacks and drinks such as Hot-Kid milk in China.

"The Tsai clan plans to make the investment via a holding company wholly owned by the family, rather than using company funds. It is a personal investment of the Tsai family," Want Want China said in a statement on its Web site.

Want Want China said it had no plans to invest in the media group, nor to take over operations after the deal is completed, the statement said.

The company did not provide financial details about the acquisition. Calls to company spokesman Everett Chu's office in Shanghai went unanswered yesterday.

Shares of Want Want China dropped 1.41 percent to HK$2.78 yesterday on the Hong Kong Exchange and Clearing Ltd.

The media-purchase deal was first reported by the Chinese-language Economic Daily News yesterday, which said Want Want had inked a memorandum of understanding with the China Times Group on Sunday to take over the Taiwanese media conglomerate for about NT$20.4 billion (US$621 million).

The deal would allow Want Want to own a 51 percent stakes in the group, the report said.

On Oct. 30, the same newspaper said Next Media -- controlled by Jimmy Lai -- was negotiating to buy the China Times Group and planned to make a formal announcement on Monday, citing unnamed industry sources.

The China Times Group, headed by Albert Yu, is undergoing a restructuring to stem constant losses.

It owns the Chinese-language newspapers China Times and Commercial Times, the China Times Weekly and the CTI TV and China Television Co networks.

Separately, Want Want said parent company Hot-Kid Holdings Ltd intended to sell Taiwan depositary receipts backed by shares in the company this year.

In the middle of last month, Hot-Kid filed a proposal to sell a maximum of 250 million of outstanding Want Want shares, or 1.89 percent, for local investors.