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ST Engineering plans medical business as population ages

Singaporean company sees opportunities in improving hospital efficiency

ST Engineering exhibited its autonomous mobile robot, which could be employed to help improve hospital efficiency, at the Singapore Airshow in early February. (Photo by Kentaro Iwamoto)

SINGAPORE -- Singapore Technologies Engineering, which operates in areas from defense equipment to electronic devices, is considering starting a push into the medical and healthcare areas, the company's chief executive said Friday.

Speaking at the company's 2017 full-year financial results briefing, CEO Vincent Chong said ST Engineering was "exploring" new business opportunities, "for example in health and medical technologies."

The new business could be in the provision of something that enables hospitals to operate more efficiently, he said, such as robotics or other solutions for patients' registration, logistics and other areas. "In the end, such benefits [of lower cost for hospitals] should translate into lower health care costs," he stressed.

He also said that the company was considering developing medical devices.

ST Engineering CEO Vincent Chong speaks at a financial results briefing on Feb. 23. (Photo by Kentaro Iwamoto)

"Today we have some parts of the organization of our business that are involved somewhat in the healthcare business," he said. "But the whole hospital value chain is more than that, and we believe that this is an area we can grow." 

Chong did not provide details of a timeline or proposed investment in the idea. However, he said the company had already spent some months looking into it and had concluded that it can invest more in this area.

The announcement comes as the population in Singapore and other countries ages. "With an ageing population around the world, we believe healthcare medical technologies continues to be a growth area for us," Chong noted.

According to estimates by the United Nations, the percentage of Singapore's population over the age of 65 will grow to 23% by 2030, from 13% last year. The Singaporean government plans to build six new hospitals in the next five years.

Chong said the company was looking to provide its medical services not only in Singapore but also beyond. "If we decide to go in, it has to be a global business," he said.

ST Engineering, which started as a defense company, is increasingly focusing on cutting-edge technologies, including in the areas of cybersecurity, robotics and smart cities.

The company's net profit for 2017 was 511 million Singapore dollars ($386 million), up 6% from a year ago, partly due to increased orders for its business converting passenger aircraft to freight carriers. The company also noted that there was a tax benefit of S$20 million from its U.S. operations as a result of a revaluation of its deferred tax liabilities ahead of a corporate tax cut that began in January.

ST Engineering's share price rose 0.3% to S$3.39 on Friday, following the financial results announcement in the morning, while Singapore's benchmark ST Index rose 1.28% to 3533.22.

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