After two very tough years of the COVID-19 pandemic, some countries have resolved to live with the coronavirus instead of subjecting their people to repeated lockdowns, worsening economic hardship and endless social restrictions.
Restrictions have been eased in certain markets the Group operates in, and we have seen good recoveries there.
Unfortunately, our home market in Hong Kong remains weak, as its borders have been mostly closed to non-residents since March 2020. This has driven our tour business to a standstill.
The World Health Organisation and other experts assert that it is still premature to conclude that the pandemic is behind us. They advocate caution as the virus continues to mutate and present new challenges.
And as we contend with the coronavirus, current geopolitical developments and global economic uncertainties will also affect our business.
The war between Russia and Ukraine has badly disrupted the food and energy supply, causing a dramatic rise in energy and food prices. The Western sanctions against Russia may also engulf other countries and threaten international trade and the world financial system.
In Asia, the US-China rivalry, the tension over Taiwan, and territorial disputes in the South China Sea are potential flashpoints that will further imperil global peace and stability.
The global surge in inflation is being tackled with drastic interest rate hikes in some countries, but high energy costs are hurting incomes and dampening consumer sentiments. As such, we see inflation having a substantial negative impact on our business in the near term in almost all the countries where we operate.
Newsprint prices will remain high in 2022 due to tight global supply conditions, cost pressures and uncertainty about the availability of Russian newsprint. The high prices will adversely impact our operating margins in the coming quarters.
Notwithstanding these challenges, we are committed to seeing the Group emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than ever before.
We will escalate our strategy to grow digital revenues and audiences, which requires developing and attracting specialists in emerging technologies. These skills are in high demand, which makes attracting and retaining people with such skills highly competitive. Nevertheless, we will continue to find ways to attract and retain bright young IT talents.
We are also in the process of restructuring our Malaysian operations to create more synergies, reduce costs and further enhance efficiency. The transformation will result in a leaner, stronger entity that will be better equipped to withstand the current geopolitical and economic challenges, as well as take on the new media and technologies threatening our industry.
In Hong Kong, we are optimistic that the region’s new Chief Executive John Lee, who is due to be sworn in on 1st July 2022, will open up the economy and restore Hong Kong’s competitiveness as an international financial hub and integrate Hong Kong into Greater Bay Area (GBA), which would impact the Group’s business positively.
We are vigilantly monitoring these developments and risks and will take timely actions as well as longer-term strategic decisions to ensure the Group will remain profitable.
The Group delivered a profit before income tax of US$1,999,000 for the year ended 31 March 2022, compared to a loss before income tax of US$1,367,000 in the previous year.
Total revenue for the year in review grew by 5.8% to US$122,387,000 from US$115,679,000 in the previous year, mainly due to the increase in turnover from the Group’s print and publishing businesses.
Earnings per share were US0.02 cents for the year ended 31 March 2022.
As at 31 March 2022, the Group’s net assets stood at US9.63 cents and the Group’s net gearing ratio was zero.
BUILDING A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
As we navigate the turbulent waters of the present, we also have our eyes on the future. We will continue to build on our strengths, streamline our operations, and fine-tune our business model, to build a solid foundation for a secure future in the digital universe.
We believe that strong trusted brands with premium content will ultimately prevail regardless of the platform for distribution. Therefore, we will build on the quality, values, and attributes that underpin the solid reputations of our various products, while simultaneously developing entertaining and informative content to increase readership on both our print and digital platforms.
While transforming our Malaysian operations, the Group’s focus worldwide will continue to be on diversifying and growing our digital revenue. As such, we will continue to invest in technology to optimise products and data to support our long-term digital business growth and monetisation goal.
We believe tourism will return and remain a strong growth market. We are confident our customers’ wanderlust remains strong, as travellers worldwide have demonstrated as soon as some countries opened their borders and relaxed quarantine restrictions. We are well placed to take advantage of travel market opportunities and achieve our growth potential as evidenced in our North America operations in the past couple of months.
Sustainability continues to be at the core of our business. We are driven by a clear objective to contribute positively to the communities we serve by minimising our impact on the environment wherever possible and inspiring others to take positive actions to protect the environment. The Group monitors the sustainability of its business operations, with internal targets set to international standards.
As the vaccination rate increases across the globe and with more countries opening their borders and transitioning to the endemic phase, there is hope that the global economy will recover soon. Hence, the Group believes that its businesses will improve in the new financial year, especially for the tour and travel segment as travel resumes across the world.
However, downside risks remain, given the uncertainties surrounding the evolution of COVID-19 variants, ongoing supply chain disruptions, escalating energy prices and inflationary risks arising from the military conflict in Ukraine and the US-China tensions.
We expect increases in newsprint prices and other costs resulting from the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict and will continue our prudent cost controls across all business units.
CORPORATE GOVERNANCE & SUSTAINABILITY
Governance and sustainability practices are at the forefront of the Board’s concerns. This year, the Group has established a Sustainability Committee at the management level to monitor and review existing sustainability practices and if necessary introduce new measures. The Board will continue to drive good governance practices in the Group. Details of the Group’s corporate governance initiatives, risk management, internal control policies and sustainability efforts are set out in the relevant sections of this Annual Report.
The Board has declared an interim dividend in lieu of the final dividend of US0.15 cents per ordinary share payable on 8 July 2022 for the financial year 2021/2022. This represents a dividend yield of 3.9% based on the Company’s closing share price on 31 March 2022.
I wish to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation on behalf of the Group to our shareholders, readers, viewers, advertisers, business partners, and other stakeholders for supporting us through this challenging period.
I also wish to thank our management and staff for their continued dedication and contribution to our Group.
Dato’ Sri Dr Tiong Ik King
26 May 2022