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Philippines' Ayala finds toehold in Thailand with water deal

Unit takes 18.72% stake in East Water, which serves Thai industrial heartland

Manila Water workers check for leaks in Vietnam. (Courtesy of Manila Water)

MANILA -- Philippine conglomerate Ayala is pushing into Thailand, with a water investment marking its first big step.

Ayala-led Manila Water has agreed to acquire 18.72% of Eastern Water Resources Development and Management, a publicly listed distributor known as East Water, from Electricity Generating Public Company, or EGCO. The conglomerate informed the Philippine Stock Exchange of the deal on Monday.

East Water provides raw water and tap water in the provinces of Rayong, Chachoengsao and Chonburi. These areas make up Thailand's industrial heartland and are home to automotive, electronics and petrochemical plants.

"East Water presents great potential, as its future growth will mainly come from the Eastern Economic Corridor, the Thai government's initiative to further develop the country's eastern seaboard into a leading economic zone in ASEAN," Manila Water CEO Ferdinand dela Cruz said.

The maiden investment in Thailand is Manila Water's fourth in Southeast Asia. The company is a bulk water supplier in Vietnam and has completed leak-reduction projects in Myanmar and Indonesia.

"From the conglomerate perspective, Ayala sees this development as a strategic entry point into Thailand," Ayala President and COO Fernando Zobel de Ayala said. "With Manila Water leading the way, we hope to leverage our various capabilities to enlarge our footprint in the country."

Ayala, the Philippines' oldest conglomerate, has interests in real estate, banking and telecommunications. It is also building new portfolios in infrastructure, energy, health care and education.

To accelerate growth, the group has been chasing investments in Southeast Asia outside the Philippines. In January, Ayala Land acquired a majority stake in Malaysian developer MCT. Earlier this month, power unit AC Energy announced plans to pour $300 million into a solar venture with Bim Group in Vietnam, according to local media reports. 

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