PH reports first three local cases of Omicron

The Philippines reported its first three local cases of the Omicron variant as per an announcement by acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles.

Two of the patients in question are from Bicol: a 27-year-old female and a 46-year-old male who tested positive on December 14 and 15 respectively. The other patient is a 42-year-old male from Metro Manila who was found to be positive on December 3.

Although all three patients have since recovered, authorities continue to trace their close contacts.

Seven additional imported cases of the Omicron variant have also been detected of which six are returning overseas Filipinos and one is a Malaysian national.

Three of the cases arrived from the United States via Philippine Airlines flight PR 103 and PR 127 on December 15 and 16 respectively. Two arrived from the United Kingdom via connecting flights of Emirates Airlines flight EK 332 and Singapore Airlines flight SQ 910 on December 9 and 15 respectively. One case arrived from the United Arab Emirates via Philippine Airlines flight PR 659 on December 19 and the last arrived from Ghana through a connecting flight of Qatar Airways flight QR 930 on December 14.

Dr. Guido David of private polling, research, and consultation firm OCTA Research previously pointed out that the COVID-19 positivity and reproduction rate was rising in recent days. As per OCTA Research, the COVID-19 reproduction rate in Metro Manila has risen to 2.19 compared to 0.85 just four days ago.

The Philippines reported 2,961 new COVID-19 cases today after reporting 1,623 new cases yesterday to end a month of sub-1,000 daily COVID-19 cases.

NCR under Alert Level 3 from January 3 to 15

The National Capital Region (NCR) is to be placed under Alert Level 3 from January 3 to 15 following a recent sharp surge in COVID-19 cases.

Acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles announced the decision at a press briefing in Davao City, citing that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) projected a further increase in new cases over the coming days.

Under Alert Level 3, establishments or activities are only allowed to operate or be undertaken at a maximum of 30% indoor venue capacity for fully vaccinated individuals and 50% outdoor venue capacity.

After a month of relatively low daily infections reported, the Philippines logged 1,623 COVID-19 cases on Thursday, December 30, 2021 and 2,961 on Friday, December 31, 2021.

RCBC plans PhP3.0 billion fixed rate bond issuance

Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) is planning to issue up to PhP3.0 billion in fixed-rate bonds under the bank’s PhP100-billion bond and commercial paper program.

As per a statement released December 31, 2021, RCBC intends to use the proceeds from the issuance to support asset growth, re-finance maturing liabilities, and supplement other general funding purposes.

The planned issuance is RCBC’s seventh in the peso bond market. The bank previously offered up to PhP3.0 billion in dual-tenor fixed-rate ASEAN sustainability bonds last March 2021 which saw demand of up to PhP17.9 billion or 5.9 times the original target issue size. The issuance was comprised of 2.5- and 5.25-year maturities issued at a fixed rate of 3.2% and 4.18% respectively.

Prior to the bank’s issuance last March, it had managed to sell over PhP15.0 billion in ASEAN green bonds, PhP8.0 billion in ASEAN sustainability bonds, and over PhP31.2 billion from other prior bond offerings.

RCBC, originally incorporated on September 23, 1960 as Rizal Development Bank, offers a wide range of traditional banking, investment banking, retail financing, and other financial services.

PH residential real estate prices up 6.3% YoY in Q3 2021

Nationwide house prices rose by 6.3% in Q3 2021 year-on-year against a year-on-year decline of 9.4% for Q2 2021 as per the Residential Real Estate Price Index (RREPI). The increase was driven by stronger consumer demand for residential properties such as townhouses and condominium units.

National Capital Region (NCR) residential property prices rose by 11.4% year-on-year during this period as an increase in prices for townhouses and condominium units offset the decline in prices for single detached or attached houses in the NCR.

Similarly, property prices in Areas Outside NCR (AONCR) increased by 4.9% year-on-year during the same period as prices for townhouses, duplex housing units, and condominium units rose enough to offset the drop in prices of single detached or attached houses.

Despite this marked year-on-year improvement, nationwide property prices increased by only 0.7% quarter-on-quarter as residential property prices in the NCR and AONCR rose by 3.7% and declined by 0.4% respectively.

As per a press release by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), these results run in line with the outcome of the Q3 2021 Consumer Expectations Survey (CES) which showed that more consumers opted to buy real estate properties for the quarter on signs of economic recovery.

However, it remains to be seen if the current rate of increase in property prices especially in the NCR is sustainable. Recent research by UK mortgage company, Online Mortgage Advisor, found Manila to be the second worst city in Asia in terms of property affordability.

PH quarter-on-quarter net external liability position lower by 7.3%

The Philippines’ net external liability position improved by 7.3% to USD21.1 billion as of end September 2021 against the USD22.7 billion reported for end June 2021 as per a December 29, 2021 press release by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

This improvement comes as a result of a 1.5% quarter-on-quarter increase in the country’s total external financial assets (from USD235.3 billion in the quarter prior to USD238.7 billion as of end September 2021) offsetting the 0.7% quarter-on-quarter increase in the country’s total external financial liabilities (from USD258.0 billion in the quarter prior to USD259.8 billion as of end September 2021).

The growth in the country’s total external financial assets for the quarter ended September 2021 was driven by a 7.8% increase in the stock of residents’ other investments amounting to USD31.8 billion, a 0.8% increase in reserve assets held by the BSP amounting to USD106.6 billion, and a 0.8% increase in direct investments amounting to USD65.6 billion.

The increase in the country’s total external financial liabilities for the quarter ended September 2021 was driven by a 230.6% increase in the allocation of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) to the country from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) amounting to USD4.0 billion alongside a 5.5% growth in non-residents’ investments in debt instruments issued by local affiliates amounting to USD47.3 billion.

BSP projects 3.5%-4.3% inflation for December 2021

In a December 29, 2021 press release, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) projected December 2021 national headline inflation to settle within the 3.5% to 4.3% range on the strength of higher electricity rates and the uptick in food prices due to weather disturbances.

This comes as a slight reversal from the downtrend to 4.2% Philippine headline inflation reported the month prior in November 2021 as per the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

The November 2021 slowdown was attributed to lower inflation rates reported in the indices for food and non-alcoholic beverages (down to 3.9% from 5.3% in October 2021) alcoholic beverages and tobacco (down to 7.5% from 9.8% in October 2021), and furnishing, household equipment, and routine maintenance of the house (down to 2.4% from 2.5% in October 2021). These were offset by higher inflation rates reported for housing, water, electricity, gas, and other fuels (up to 4.6% from just 4.4% in October 2021) and transport (up to 8.8% from just 7.1% in October 2021).

Nonetheless, the BSP’s projection remains under the average inflation rate from January to November 2021 of 4.5% and well under the high of 4.9% reported in August 2021.

Converge boosts international network capacity

Converge Information and Communications Technology Solutions, Inc. (CNVRG) added 1.3 terabits per second (Tbps) to its international network capacity via the City to City (C2C) cable system.

The additional 1.3 Tbps in capacity on the C2C cable system for CNVRG effectively makes its submarine cable configuration redundant. This would mean that network availability is guaranteed to users even in the event of a submarine cable outage.

The C2C cable system forms a part of the East Asia Crossing-City to City (EAC-C2C) network which is Asia’s largest privately-owned submarine cable network stretching 17,000 kilometers. The EAC-C2C network connects the Philippines to countries such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, Korea, and China.

As per a December 29, 2021 press release by CNVRG, 700 gigabits per second (Gbps) out of the 1.3 Tbps is already active.

“We’re strengthening our international capacity portfolio in anticipation of tremendous demand in data in the coming years within and outside of Asia,” said CNVRG Founder and Chief Executive Officer Dennis Anthony Uy. “This is a step in future-proofing our international network, especially as we have started with our wholesale business.”

This improvement comes just after CNVRG suffered a major outage last November 20, 2021. The company nonetheless continues to expand its services to provinces with low fiber penetration, opening 23 business centers across the country as of end November 2021.

CNVRG is a leading Philippine fiber data network and internet service provider. It was founded by Dennis Antony Uy and Maria Grace Uy on October 17, 2007.

Razon-led holdco announces tender offer for shares of Apex Mining

In a Letter of Intent (LOI) dated December 29, 2021, Razon-led Prime Strategic Holdings, Inc. (PSHI) submitted a letter to Apex Mining Co., Inc. (APX) announcing for shares of APX at PhP1.30 per share. The tender offer will cover all outstanding common shares of APX held by the public or minority shareholders of APX.

As of the date of the LOI, PSHI holds 2,511,329,207 common shares or 40.32% of all outstanding shares of APX. PSHI also indirectly owns an additional 14.43% of APX through its 98.00% ownership of both Lakeland Village Holdings, Inc. (LVHI) and Devoncourt Estates, Inc. (DEI).

Monte Oro Resources & Energy, Inc. (MOREI) also holds 555,133,447 common shares or 8.91% of all outstanding shares of APX.

PSHI is an investment holding company led by International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) chairman Enrique K. Razon, Jr. More recently, the company has made larger investments in infrastructure.

APX, incorporated on February 26, 1970, is primarily engaged in the business of mining ores, metals, and minerals. Its operations are mainly situated in Maco, Davao de Oro.

Global Ferronickel acquires majority stake in Mariveles port operator

On December 29, 2021, Global Ferronickel Holdings, Inc. (FNI) acquired an additional 24% stake or 1,000,000 shares of Seasia Nectar Port Services, Inc. (SNPSI) from Nectar Group Limited (NGL) for PhP192 million payable in cash. This investment increases FNI’s ownership from 40% to 64%.

FNI, formerly Southeast Asia Cement Holdings, Inc., is a holding company with primary business interests in mineral resource exploration and nickel ore mining and export. The company has three (3) main subsidiaries, namely: FNI Steel Landholdings Corporation (FSLC), Platinum Group Metals Corporation (PGMC), and FNI Steel Corporation (FSC).

SNPSI is a joint venture between Seasia Logistics Philippines, Inc. (SLPI) and NGL. SNPSI operates a dry bulk terminal in the Freeport Area of Bataan capable of handling shipments of coal, clinker, silica sand, cement raw materials, steel, fertilizer, and other dry bulk cargos.

The investment in SNPSI provides additional support to FNI’s planned USD50 million Bataan steel plant as it now has steady access to port services crucial for the importation of raw construction materials.

CTS Global plans PhP1.4B IPO

CTS Global Equity Group, Inc. (CGEGI) is planning to raise up to PhP1.375 billion from an initial public offering (IPO) in the first quarter of 2022.

CGEGI, established in 1986, is one of the country’s largest global stock brokerages. Besides the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE), the company is also active in trading in the United States, Hong Kong, and Japan. It is chaired by COL Financial Group, Inc. (COL) founder and veteran stockbroker Edward K. Lee.

The company hopes to use the proceeds from the offer towards further scaling global trading operations, expanding its client accounts management segment, and for general corporate purposes.

The company hopes to conduct its offer period from February 21 to 28, 2022 before a potential March 9 listing date.