Lopez-led Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) again bucked the stock market's decline last week due to rumors that food and beverage giant San Miguel Corp. was out to increase its stake in the utility.
The power distributor went up by close to a tenth week on week to settle at P91.50 per share, even if the Philippine Stock Exchange index went down by 0.97 percent or 18 points to 1,881.44. Meralco contributed P2.73 billion to the market's P8.45-billion turnover last week.
Since the trading of its shares resumed, Meralco has gone up by more than half after opening the year at P59.50 apiece — an unusual movement amid negative investor sentiment, analysts said.
Claire S. Quiray of Accord Capital Equities Corp. said much of the stock trading involving Meralco had been coursed through foreign brokerages Macquarie Capital Securities (Philippines), Inc. and Deutsche Regis Partners, Inc.
"The board seat warfare between the groups of Ramon Ang and the Lopezes were speculated to have caused the breakout of Meralco," she said in an interview.
There have been market rumors that San Miguel now holds a 34-percent stake in Meralco, bigger than the 33.4-percent interest of Lopez-led First Philippine Holdings Corp.
Both parties, however, have denied any hand in the unprecedented rise of Meralco's share price.
The Lopez camp claims its focus is to pay debt was not raising its stake in the utility, while San Miguel Corp. says it wants to help the Lopezes in the management of Meralco and does not want to take over.
There have also been rumors that the Government Service Insurance System was buying back Meralco shares after selling its interest in the utility to San Miguel in October.
Analysts were also divided about how high Meralco's share price could go. Some said it would likely remain at the P90 level — the price for which the Cojuangco group had paid for the state pension fund's 27 percent in the utility.
Others said the price could retest P105 per share in the next couple of months after Meralco broke the P90 level.
"Meralco gave the index a boost last week and prevented a steeper drop. However, it remains to be seen whether Meralco's price appreciation will continue," Prince A. Yeung of AB Capital Securities, Inc. said.
The price appreciation, he added, could continue. "But if it does not move [this week], the market is more likely to experience thinner trading activity and a steeper drop."
The rise in Meralco's price pulled up other Lopez-led companies. Holding company Benpres Holdings Corp. gained 4.84 percent to P1.30 apiece. On the other hand, ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. went down by 3.85 percent to P13.50.
Aside from Lopez stocks, Petron Corp., the country's largest oil refiner, was also one of the biggest gainers last week, adding 1.89 percent to finish at P5.40.
On the other hand, San Miguel Brewery, Inc. was one of the market's biggest losers, shedding more than a tenth to close at P9.
Other blue chips that went down included Ayala-led Manila Water Co., Inc., which slid by a tenth to P10.50; Metropolitan Bank and Trust Co., which shed 9.89 percent to P20.50; and Ayala Land, Inc., which lost 8.06 percent to P5.70. — Kristine Jane R. Liu