Biggest SE Asia container shipper in talks with France’s CMA CGM

France’s CMA CGM SA is in exclusive talks to buy Singapore’s Neptune Orient Lines Ltd., as global shipping companies grapple with ways to revive earnings amid a glut of new vessels, shrinking demand and declining prices. A deal would bring together the world’s third largest container company with Southeast Asia’s biggest container shipper. CMA CGM has until Dec. 7 to complete a due diligence review and negotiate the definitive agreements for the offer, Neptune Orient said in a statement to Singapore’s stock exchange on Saturday. Liners have idled about 5% of the global fleet, slashed costs, sold assets and cut employees in an attempt to stem years of losses as sluggish global growth and an over-supply of vessels eat into shipping rates, which fell to a record low in the week ended Nov. 19. Supply growth is expected to outpace demand for dry-bulk and tanker markets in 2016 and companies have been searching for ways to make money. Losses, Debt Neptune Orient, which helped cement Singapore’s status as a global trade hub, attracted takeover interest after simplifying its structure this year by shedding its $1.2 billion logistics unit. The company, created in 1968 and 67% owned by Singapore’s state investment company Temasek Holdings Pte, ran up $1.2 billion of cumulative losses in the previous four years. Its net debt in the period almost doubled to more than $4 billion. The company’s shares have risen 7.2% in the past two weeks after it disclosed separate talks with CMA CGM and Danish conglomerate A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S on a possible sale. Singapore’s benchmark Straits Times Index lost 3.1% over the period. Acquiring Neptune Orient would help consolidate CMA CGM’s position in the global container market along with Maersk and Mediterranean Shipping Co. Neptune Orient’s APL container unit has a 2.7% market share, while CMA CGM controls 8.9% of the market, according to data from industry consultant Alphaliner. Among 40 peers, Neptune Orient was the world’s sixth-biggest transporter of U.S. exports between January and September last year and had a market share of 5.3%, according to JOC Group Inc. data. Mediterranean Shipping Co. led with 13%. (By Joyce Koh/Bloomberg)

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