(Corrects timing of board changes in paragraph 8)
HONG KONG, Feb 18 (Reuters) - SCMP Group Ltd, the publisher of Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper, said on Monday it is in talks regarding the possible acquisition of a group of media companies in Hong Kong.
The announcement came almost four hours after its shares surged as much as 31 percent before the noon trading day lunch break with no immediate reason given for the jump. The shares closed up 23 percent at HK$2.15, prior to a trading suspension.
The company said in its stock exchange statement that it was unaware of any reason for the stock price jump.
For full statement, click here
Trading in SCMP's shares on Monday was unusual, with 3.76 million shares traded ahead of the halt, well above its normal average. On Friday, 274,000 SCMP shares traded, according to Thomson Reuters data.
A snapshot of the broker queue for trading in SCMP Group shares suggests that retail and warrant traders were active in the stock at the time of the halt. The otherwise thinly-traded stock saw volumes hit their highest since May 2009 with the sharpest spike coming an hour into the open.
The newspaper, the largest circulation English daily in Hong Kong, is controlled by billionaire Robert Kuok through Kerry Media Ltd. Kuok owns a sprawling business empire ranging from the Shangri-La Asia Ltd chain of luxury hotels, Singapore palm-oil firm Wilmar International Ltd and home builder Kerry Properties Ltd.
The SCMP disclosed last month a new list of their board of directors with the main change being that Kuok's son, Kuok Khoon Ean, is no longer on the board.
The company has a free float of about 25 percent, but that is expected to fall to 10.6 percent at the end of February after Kerry Media is forced to buy 225 million shares of SCMP Group to meet the exercise of an options agreement from 2009.
The stock had previously been halted on Feb. 7 ahead of an announcement from Kerry Media that it was exercising the option to buy the shares, which were held by Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan and Bank of East Asia.
In an announcement made after the trading halt on Monday, SCMP Group said that it is currently in negotiations with third parties regarding the possible acquisition of an unidentified group of media companies in Hong Kong.
If the acquisition materializes, it may constitute a discloseable transaction for the company under listing rules of the exchange, the announcement said.
The announcement also said that at this time only a non-binding term sheet had been agreed.
Reporting by Stephen Aldred and Anne Marie Roantree; Additional reporting by Elzio Barreto, Vikram Subhedar and Umesh Desai; Editing by Michael Flaherty and Matt Driskill