Photo by Albert Chua/The Edge Singapore

Insiders of investment company Uni-Asia Group, which has interest in shipping, hotels and property development, have been raising their stakes in the company, days before its share price hit a 52-week-high.

On May 21, executive chairman Michio Tanamoto acquired 50,000 shares for $33,250 or 66.5 cents each, bringing his total stake to more than 2.47 million shares or a 3.14% stake.

Masahiro Iwabuchi, one of the two executive directors, on May 18 acquired 100,000 shares for $67,000 or 67 cents each. He now holds a total of 400,000 shares or 0.51%.

Separately, Ham Yong Kwan, a substantial shareholder of the company, raised his stake too. On May 14, he acquired 128,000 shares for $85,739.70 or 67 cents each. He now holds 5,955,700 shares or 7.58%. Prior to this, on May 10, Ham had acquired 70,300 shares for $47,150.21 or just above 67 cents each.

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Ham emerged as a substantial shareholder of Uni-Asia in late January. In a Jan 27 filing, the company said Ham acquired 510,800 shares for $301,372 or 59 cents each. As such, Ham has lifted his stake to 4,375,700 shares or 5.57% from 4.92%.

The insiders made their purchases amid growing optimism over Uni-Asia’s prospects. On May 24, KGI Research analyst Joel Ng upgraded his call on Uni-Asia to “outperform” with a higher target price of 91 cents from 54 cents, deeming its valuations “attractive” amid the bulk carrier upcycle and resilient property markets in Japan and Hong Kong.

To Ng, Uni-Asia Group could see “brighter days ahead” this year after a “challenging” 2020 which saw a net loss of US$7.5 million ($10 million) in the FY2020 ended December.

The net loss, compared to the US$6.6 million net profit posted in FY2019, was due to the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the group’s Japan hotel business.

Uni-Asia’s bulk shipping business segment, its other major revenue contributor, was forced to take an impairment of some US$7.9 million due to a decline in charter rates in the 1HFY2020. However, based on its latest business update in 1QFY2021, the shipping industry is expected to make a strong recovery this year, thanks to the boom in the commodities markets. Uni-Asia holds interest in 10 direct-owned dry bulk carriers and eight dry bulks.

“Earlier this month, the Baltic Dry Index (BDI) rose above 3,000, the highest since 2010. Uni-Asia is a key beneficiary of this boom and managed to achieve average daily charter rates of around US$10,000 for its dry bulk carriers, a 34% y-o-y improvement from US$7,400 in 1QFY2020,” notes Ng.

To this end, Ng has raised the multiples for Uni-Asia Group’s shipping business to 0.5 times FY2021 P/B from 0.2 times FY2020 P/B previously. He has also kept the group’s Hong Kong and Japan property business at 0.5 times FY2021 P/B.

Hit by pandemic, rescued by subsidies
Ang Yee Lim, managing director ABR holdings, has been buying up shares of the company over the last couple of weeks amid a 52-week-low of its share price. The most recent buying was on May 24, when he paid $96 for 200 shares, or an average of 48 cents each. With that, Ang now holds nearly 103 million shares, or 51.197%. Earlier on May 12, 18 and 20, he had bought more than 1.26 million shares, at prices ranging from 49 cents to 54.7 cents.

Ang was appointed as an executive director of the company back in May 2004 and subsequently promoted to managing director in July the same year. ABR runs various F&B brands such as American casual dining restaurant Swensen’s, Yogen Früz and Tip Top which sells curry puffs.

Like every other F&B company, ABR was affected by the pandemic. Revenue for FY2020 ended December 2020 was down 29% to $86 million. However, thanks to government subsidies and rental rebates to the tune of $13.9 million,

ABR reported earnings of nearly $6 million for FY2020, up from $1.98 million in FY2019.