Japan’s three largest shippers merge container businesses

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Japan’s three largest shippers merge container businesses

Japan’s three biggest shippers agreed to combine their container operations to create the world’s sixth-largest box carrier, as the industry steps up consolidation this year amid global turmoil in the sea-cargo business.

Nippon Yusen KK, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. and Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd., which are predicting operating losses this year, will create a company that will control 7 percent of the world container-shipping trade, according to a joint statement in Tokyo Monday. The combination will need to be approved by regulators in the European Union, U.S., China and Japan, among others.

The global container industry has been in turmoil since the 2008 financial crisis brought trading to its knees. Korea’s biggest line Hanjin Shipping Co. filed for bankruptcy protection in August while others like A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S, the world’s biggest, have restructured to cut costs even as rates to move shoes and televisions stay depressed.

“It feels more of a merger for survival,” said Mikey Hsia, a trader at Sunrise Brokers LLP in Hong Kong. “I see it as a reaction to Hanjin Shipping. The impact is that there won’t be any domestic competition. Now, the companies have to compete from a global perspective.”

Nippon Yusen shares surged 6.4 percent to 215 yen ($2.05) in Tokyo on Monday, the biggest gain in almost two months. Mitsui OSK jumped 5.6 percent, the most since Sept. 5.

Kawasaki Kisen ended the day 0.4 percent higher after earlier climbing as much as 10 percent.

The combined entity will be formed by July 1 and will have about 2 trillion yen in sales and will be Asia’s biggest box carrier after China Cosco Shipping Corp.

It expects to start operations by April 2018 and will have 256 vessels, according to the statement.

Nippon Yusen will own 38 percent of the merged entity while Kawasaki Kisen and Mitsui OSK will each hold 31 percent, according to the statement.

“With joint shipping and alliances, the scale of our operations and business styles, we have many things in common,” the shipping lines said in a joint statement. “We thought it would be easier to utilize each others’ strengths this way.”

The companies started talks on the merger of the container lines in the spring and will start discussions with major shareholders, Eizo Murakami, president of Kawasaki Kisen said in Tokyo Monday.

There won’t be any change to the bulk-cargo moving business of the three shipping companies.

Nippon Yusen got 30.5 percent of its revenue last year from the liner business. That number was 49.4 percent for Kawasaki Kisen and 42 percent for Mitsui OSK, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“The way the industry is going, combining their operations is a good thing,” said Rahul Kapoor, a director at Drewry Financial Research Services Ltd. in Singapore.

“China has combined its two shipping lines. The Japanese need to combine to survive in this environment.”

All the three Japanese companies on Monday forecast operating losses for this fiscal year.

Helped by cheap loans, container lines worldwide have hung on even as freight rates to move goods have remained depressed. While Maersk has embarked on a restructuring program, companies like Hapag-Lloyd AG and France’s CMA CGM SA have bought out smaller rivals to consolidate the industry.

Korea’s government said Monday that it plans to spend 11 trillion won ($9.6 billion) by 2020 to help the local shipping and shipbuilding industries tide over the slump.

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