Ngs have a track record of bouncing back

THE Ng family, the major shareholders of Hong Kong-listed Pacific Andes International Ltd (PAIH), is a big name in the global corporate world, having made their fortune in fishing.

The name is likely to ring a bell across the causeway too where Pacific Andes group has two subsidiaries listed on the Singapore Exchange (SGX) – China Fishery Group Ltd and Pacific Andes Resources Development Ltd (PARD).

But little do people know that the conglomerate, which is synonymous with Alaskan pollock, has roots in Malaysia and has been doing business for over three generations.

The founder of Pacific Andes is Ng Swee Hong, who was born in 1934 to a family of businessmen from historic Melaka.

It was not so smooth sailing for the young Swee Hong, who had to endure a difficult youth due to the World War II across Asia that saw his father separated from the family, a tribute on him on Pacific Andes’ website reads.

He had to stop his studies and work as a helper in a small shop to make a modest living to supplement the family income.

In 1965, at the age of 31, Swee Hong moved to Singapore to pursue better prospects where he went on to establish his first sugar and rice trading business and chartered out cargo vessels. He had also dabbled in real estate, according to past media reports.

However, a stock market and property sector crash in Singapore in the early 1980s nearly wiped out the fortunes of the family and left it in debt, Forbes wrote in a 2007 report.

The family apparently sold almost everything they had and relocated to Hong Kong where Swee Hong founded Pacific Andes with his sons in 1986.

In its early life, the company imported fish from India, Pakistan and South America and sold it to Taiwan, Forbes reported.

Business grew and in 1994, the family listed its Pacific Andes International Holdings Ltd on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Two years later, it spun off its trading arm, Pacific Andes Resources Development Ltd, on the Singapore Stock Exchange.

Swee Hong had by then become less involved in the group’s daily operations and the baton was passed on to the eldest son, Ng Joo Siang.

Swee Hong, however, remained as chairman until his death in 2006 at the age of 72.

Not unlike other Chinese-run enterprises, Joo Siang’s other siblings are also involved in the business, holding directorships within the group of companies.

However, it was during Joo Siang’s tenure that the group saw rapid expansion that coincided with a period of steadily rising seafood consumption across the world.

The group found its jackpot in Alaskan Pollock, which was available in abundant quantities in the waters of Russia.

Pacific Andes controls about 60% of the global market share of this fish species.

The group continued to cast its net further. In 2004, Pacific Andes diversified into deep-sea industrial fishing when it bought a strategic stake in China Fishery.

Through China Fishery, it began sourcing and harvesting a wide range of fish species in the world’s oceans. To fuel its growth, the company was listed on SGX two years later.

The potential of China Fishery caught the eye of many investors such as the Carlyle Group – the US private-equity firm that paid US$190mil in 2010 for a minority stake in the stock that is now less than US$15mil.

In 2013, the company unveiled an ambitious cash buyout of Peru’s second-largest fishing company, Copeinca.

Pacific Andes asked for mega loans to finance this deal.

Adding on to China Fishery’s financial woes was a cut in catch quota due to El Nino, which led to a sharp decline of fishes it could harvest.

Shares of the three listed companies have been suspended from trading since Nov 2015.

The following month, Joo Siang, who has been managing director of Pacific Andes since 1993 and vice-chairman since 2007, stepped down from his roles.

He will, however, continue to act as adviser to the company. He was replaced by sister Jessie Ng Puay Yee.

Joo Siang had resigned from his roles as chairman and director of Pacific Andes with Puay Yee replacing him in both roles.

The resignation comes amid tumultuous times for Pacific Andes, after HSBC applied to a court in Hong Kong to wind up China Fishery and appoint a liquidator.

However, in June 2016, China Fishery filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to the surprise of its creditors.

Having gone through several ups and downs in the past, can the Ngs bounce back from the choppy waters they are in?

The coming weeks will tell.

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