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Philippine conglomerate raises $200 million in overnight equity placement

MANILA -- Philippine infrastructure conglomerate Metro Pacific Investments has embarked on a program to reduce debt and build up its capital so as to better bankroll new projects.

     The group, which has interests in toll roads, power and water distribution as well as hospital operations, on Tuesday said it raised $200 million in an overnight equity placement that saw strong interest from Asian, U.S. and European investors.

     CEO Jose Ma. Lim said Metro Pacific is now preparing to take out new financing of 10 billion pesos ($225 million) to reduce some high-interest debt at its power unit.

     "With recent developments in our new investment in Vietnam, accelerating progress in the Philippines in our road (projects), specifically the SCTEX (Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway), together with rail and further PPP [public-private partnership] opportunities ahead of us, we decided now was the time to embark on an equity raising," Lim said in a statement.

     On Monday, a Metro Pacific unit bagged the concession for a 94km expressway, bolstering a toll road portfolio that also includes three other expressways on the main island of Luzon, where Manila is located.

     The company last month purchased a 45% stake at a Vietnamese tollway company, after buying a stake in a Thai expressway operator last year.

     Metro Pacific, together with the Ayala Group, is also investing around $1 billion in a Philippine railway project -- a concession that it won last year.

     A unit of Hong Kong-listed First Pacific, which is controlled by Indonesia's Salim Group, Metro Pacific has been looking for potential projects in the Philippines via the government's public-private partnership program as well as opportunities in the rest of fast-growing but infrastructure-deprived Southeast Asia.

     Meanwhile, Metro Pacific's capital buildup was supported by a key investor, U.S.-based fund Cartica Management, which owns some 7% of the conglomerate's outstanding shares.

     "We believe it demonstrates Metro Pacific's responsiveness to the concerns of its shareholders and is an important step in its efforts to create long-term value for its shareholders through its ownership of leading infrastructure assets in the Philippines," Steven Quamme, a senior managing director at Cartica, said in a separate statement to reporters.

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