Temasek freezes pay, cuts bonuses for a year to counter virus impact

SINGAPORE: Temasek Holdings Pte, Singapore’s state-owned investment firm, is implementing a company-wide wage freeze for an as-yet-undetermined period and asking senior management to take voluntary pay reductions for up to a year amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The moves, which start in April, will see Temasek halt all raises and salary increases linked to promotions for a duration to be “determined by market conditions,” according to an emailed statement Tuesday.

The firm will also introduce partial cuts to the annual bonuses of senior management, who have also been asked to voluntarily lower their base salaries by as much as 5%.

Temasek said it will donate part of the money it saves to staff-volunteer initiatives, and support the community as needed through unspecified measures.

It’ll also match dollar-for-dollar any voluntary base salary reductions. The compensation exercise was first reported by the Business Times.

It isn’t the first time Temasek, which managed S$313 billion as of March 2019, has implemented wage freezes – it took similar measures during the SARS outbreak in 2003 and during the global financial crisis in 2008.

Ho Ching, the wife of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is Chief Executive Officer of Temasek Holdings.

This is “an important demonstration of our ownership mindset, sharing gains and pains alongside our shareholder, and supporting our wider communities,” a Temasek spokesperson said, describing the initiatives as “salary-restraint measures.”

China exposure

Temasek is heavily invested in China, with about 26% of its holdings there as of March 2019.

That’s meant the Covid-19 outbreak has had a major impact on its portfolio.

The firm’s multibillion-dollar stakes in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd have both fallen since Jan 1, as has the value of its interest in Singapore Airlines Ltd.

The carrier also imposed a hiring freeze and is considering other measures including asking staff to take voluntary no-pay leave, according to a Straits Times report Monday, citing an internal letter from CEO Goh Choon Phong.

Temasek’s investment strategy has been focused on buying into structural trends, such as changing consumption patterns. Those have been disrupted globally as governments clamp down on the movement of people and the production of goods.

Singapore, which now has more than 80 cases of the coronavirus, lowered its growth outlook for 2020 to a range of -0.5% to 1.5% as it braces for a hit to tourism and trade.

The republic also announced in its budget last week plans to widen the fiscal deficit to the most since at least 1997 with S$6.4 billion to shore up the economy and counter the impact of the virus.

Temasek is expected to deliver its financial results for the year ending March 2020 in July.

Temasek International Chief Executive Officer Dilhan Pillay told Bloomberg News in January it had boosted the value of its portfolio by about 3% while ramping up the number of deals significantly.

The firm has around 800 employees from some 30 nationalities across 11 offices, according to its latest annual report.

Its staff give back to their communities by taking part in various activities from distributing food in New York to soap making in Shenzhen and teaching children about the environment in Mumbai.