South-East Asia Loan House: United Overseas Bank

IFR Asia Awards 2021
3 min read
Chien Mi Wong

Being bold

In a challenging year with declining syndicated lending volumes, United Overseas Bank stood out among its peers for its impressive array of sole mandates and marquee transactions.

The bank stepped up its game with a series of sizeable event-driven financings, including a giant S$1.5bn (US$1.1bn) five-year facility for government-owned Jurong Port’s purchase of the assets and business of Universal Terminal Singapore and its subsidiary UT Singapore Services.

The transaction, the single largest sole underwritten loan from South-East Asia in 2021, emerged after the collapse of oil trader Hin Leong Trading in 2020. Hin Leong founder Lim Oon Kuin and his family owned a 41% stake in UTS.

Despite legal complexities, UOB structured and syndicated the loan backing the purchase, bringing in seven other banks.

A month later UOB wrapped up another large borrowing in Singapore as sole bookrunner and underwriter – a S$1.2bn-equivalent multi-tranche loan for a Blackstone Group-led consortium for the take-private of Soilbuild Business Space REIT. UOB brought in five other lenders, showcasing its ability to advise and lead complex event-driven financings for corporate and financial sponsors alike.

“UOB was solely mandated and successfully distributed several landmark syndicated financing deals in South-East Asia in 2021, including the three largest sole underwritten syndicated financings in the region,” said Edmund Leong, head of group investment banking at UOB.

UOB performed impressively in Vietnam. The bank played a pivotal role as original mandated lead arranger, bookrunner, underwriter and coordinator on a US$1bn one-year borrowing for Vietnam Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Industry and Trade (VietinBank) in what became the largest syndicated loan from the country.

UOB took a bold call as sole underwriter on the US$1bn financing – on the back of reverse enquiries – within days of a US$790m dual-tranche loan for the borrower that closed in August. The larger borrowing closed in November with 19 other banks participating – a strong outcome considering that 31 banks had already participated in the US$790m loan, including UOB as one of the 10 MLABs.

In Thailand, UOB leveraged its relationship with conglomerate Charoen Pokphand, leading financings for subsidiaries including an increased US$750m borrowing for Chia Tai Animal Husbandry Investment (Beijing) in October and a US$2.48bn-equivalent refinancing for Ek-Chai Distribution System, the operator of Tesco Lotus hypermarkets.

UOB bagged key roles on ESG financings, acting as sole global coordinator and joint sustainability adviser on a US$700m debut sustainability-linked loan for logistics property investor ESR Cayman and its subsidiaries, and joint MLAB and underwriter on a US$150m maiden SLL for Indonesian palm oil producer First Resources.

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