So the prices of sugar and petrol have gone up again. But who stands to gain?
This is the third time this year that the price of white refined sugar prices has been hiked. It was raised by 20 sen on 1 Jan and by 20 sen on 15 July. Now it’s going up another 20 sen to RM2.10 per kg. Okay, we all have to cut down on sugar for health reasons, but it’s going to have a spin-off effect on a host of other products like your coffee at the kopi tiam.
But who actually benefits? Only four refineries are allowed to import raw sugar into the country.
Robert Kuok exited from the sugar industry in Malaysia last October. His PPB Group’s sugar refining operations came under MSM and a joint venture with Felda – Kilang Gula Felda Perlis Sdn Bhd. These two outfits produced over 700,000 tonnes of refined sugar annually.
In a RM1.5 billion deal, Felda’s main commercial unit, Felda Global Ventures Holdings Sdn Bhd, bought over PPB Group’s entire sugar assets in Malaysia including a sugarcane farm in Perlis and PPB Group’s 20 per cent share in Tradewinds (M) Bhd.
Tradewinds, linked to the well-connected Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, controls Central Sugars Refinery Sdn Bhd and Kilang Gula Padang Terap Bhd.
Now, will the higher prices result in savings in government subsidies on raw sugar imports or translate to higher profits for the refineries? Earlier this year, The Star reported:
It is estimated that Malaysia imports about one million tonnes of raw sugar a year, or 90% of its total requirement. Refiners in the country sourced their raw sugar needs through long term contracts negotiated by the Government with overseas suppliers.
Imported raw sugar price is set by the Government. By subsidising raw sugar prices, the Government is able to maintain domestic retail sugar prices in a volatile market….
PPB’s sugar business had been profitable in the past years, thanks in part to the price control mechanism and the group’s highly efficient commodity trading operations.
Recent annual figures for the year ended 31 Dec 2009 showed PPB’s sugar refining and cane business contributing RM1.4bil in revenue and RM283mil in earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to the group. PPB’s EBIT margin was at an impressive 20% for the full year, according to HwangDBS Vickers Research.
No doubt the sale of the lucrative sugar business would leave a big gap in PPB’s income stream.