MANILA, March 21, 2006
 (STAR) The stock market climbed yesterday to its highest level in over a year on strong interest in Equitable PCI Bank following reports of a takeover offer, analysts said.

At the Philippine Dealing System (PDS), the peso continued to march toward the 51-to-a-dollar level, hitting a high of 51 to $1 during intraday trading before closing at 51.03 to $1. Yesterday’s close was one centavo higher than Friday’s close of 51.04 to $1. Yesterday’s trading volume was light at only $277.50 million.

The benchmark 30-company composite index rose 13.14 points, or 0.6 percent, to close at 2,163.31, its highest level since March 7, 2005.

"Buying interest in Equitable PCI Bank perked up sentiment early on. It set up the momentum for the market’s trading," said Westlink Global Equities chairman Rommel Macapagal.

Equitable PCI Bank rose 50 centavos, or 0.7 percent, to P75, its highest close since Feb. 15, 2000 after one of its major shareholders, state pension fund Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) disclosed an offer by an unidentified investor to acquire majority control of Equitable PCI Bank.

GSIS said that an unidentified buyer has offered to pay P95 a share for Henry Sy’s stake in Equitable PCI Bank. Sy’s holding company, SM Investments Corp. (SM PM), said, however, that the group hasn’t received a "firm offer" for its shares.

Analysts said the market was also boosted by the inclusion of Empire East Land Holdings Inc. and Manila Mining Corp. in the key index.

"The inclusion in the index will boost demand for these stocks," said Mark Canizares, an analyst at " Investors will have to include these companies in their portfolios if they follow the index."

Bank of the Philippine Islands, the most actively traded stock, advanced 2.4 percent to P63.50 on 2.71 million shares traded after the country’s second-largest lender in assets last week declared a stock dividend of two new shares for every 10 shares held by qualified shareholders.

Filinvest Development Corp. surged to its highest in more than six years on speculation its Filinvest Corporate City property development was undervalued.

Empire East jumped three centavos, or six percent, to 53 centavos, a year high. Megaworld Corp., a builder of residential and office towers and owner of Empire East, rose two centavos, or 1.4 percent, to P1.48, its highest since Feb. 2.

Manila Mining’s Class A shares, which are reserved for Filipinos, rose 0.1 centavo, or 5.9 percent, to P1.8, for a two-day, 13 percent gain. Its Class B shares, which have no ownership restrictions, added 0.1 centavo, or four percent, to P2.60, its highest in almost a month.

Holcim Philippines, its largest cement company, fell 10 centavos, or 2.3 percent, to P4.30, its first decline in four days. Pilipino Telephone, the nation’s third-largest mobile phone company, gained 10 centavos, or 3.3 percent, to P3.15.

Shares worth P1 billion traded, 19 percent less than the six-month daily average. In the broader market, 41 shares rose, 32 fell and 52 were unchanged.

ELI stock dividend

The board of directors of leading township developer Empire East Land Holdings (ELI) has declared a 15-percent stock dividend payable to stockholders on Aug. 8 this year.

Empire East’s stockholders will approve the stock declaration dividend at their annual meeting on June 13. The shares will come from the unissued portion of the company’s authorized capital stock.

The company’s board also approved the full redemption of its Series "C" preferred shares at P1 per share for a total amount of P950 million. These are non-participating, convertible, redeemable and non-voting shares.

"These twin moves — the 15 percent stock dividend and the redemption of preferred shares — attest to the strong financial position of Empire East and its confidence in the brightening prospects of the residential market," said Empire East president Anthony Charlemagne Yu.

Reservation sales for the company’s various ongoing projects reached P3.5 billion in 2005, Yu said, adding that a higher volume is projected for 2006.

"We have several projects in the pipeline that boost our ability to provide more affordable housing options to middle-income homebuyers," he said. "And we are looking at new areas where we can expand our housing development business."

Empire East Land is a pioneer in self-contained township projects located in Metro Manila and in the suburbs and catering to a middle-income market. These include its flagship project Laguna BelAir in Sta. Rosa, Laguna; Cambridge Village in the Pasig-Cainta area; and California Garden Square in Mandaluyong City.

Empire East’s largest revenue earner is Laguna BelAir, whose fast-selling house-and-lot packages have made it the country’s most successful township. Laguna BelAir’s Phases 1 and 2 have only a few units left, while Phases 3 and 4 are almost sold out.

Aggressive marketing activities have also driven the sale of Cambridge Village and California Garden Square. Cambridge Village is a 7.4-hectare community of loft-and flat-type homes now rising in the Pasig-Cainta area. California Garden Square comprises 25 medium-rise residential-and-commercial buildings in eight clusters in Mandaluyong City. – AP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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