Japan's top 3 shippers to merge container ops amid downturn

Japan's top three shippers today said they will integrate their container shipping operations to create the world's sixth-largest player, joining a growing trend of consolidation in an industry battling its worst-ever downturn.

Overcapacity and anaemic economic growth globally have left hundreds of ships idle in the industry's worst slump since its birth in the 1950s and 1960s, which culminated in the collapse in August of South Korea's Hanjin Shipping Co Ltd.

Nippon Yusen KK, Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd and Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd said they would form a joint venture that they expect to create annual cost benefits of about 110 billion yen ($1.05 billion).

"The aim of becoming one this time is so none of us become zero," said Tadaaki Naito, the president of Nippon Yusen, at a joint news conference in Tokyo.

Container shipping has seen a wave of mergers and acquisitions as companies try to grab a bigger share of a depressed market.

"This merger ... is a response to consolidation in Europe that is creating mega carriers. It is necessary to stay competitive," said Eizo Murakai, Kawasaki Kisen's president.

In other shipping industry developments, the world's No3 player, CMA CGM of France, is in the process of acquiring Singapore's Neptune Orient Lines, reports Reuters.

German container shipping line Hapag-Lloyd AG agreed earlier this year to merge with United Arab Shipping Company (UASC).

In China, former state-controlled rivals COSCO and China Shipping Group have merged to create China COSCO Shipping Corporation, the world's No4 container shipper by capacity. Separately, China Merchants Group is buying logistics group Sinotrans & CSC Holdings Co.

Underscoring the depth of the downturn, China COSCO Holdings, the flagship listed unit of COSCO, warned of a loss for the year on Friday as it failed to capitalise on a market recovery in the third quarter.

In South Korea, the government said on Monday it planned to establish a state-backed ship financing company with an initial capital of 1 trillion won ($871 million) to help improve the financial health of Korean shipping companies.

The Japanese joint venture, to be owned 38 percent by Nippon Yusen and 31 per cent each by Mitsui OSK and Kawasaki Kisen, will be formed on 1 July 2017 and begin operations in April 2018, they said in a joint statement.

Shares in the companies - whose combined fleet of over 2,000 vessels includes tankers, dry-cargo carriers and container ships - jumped almost 10 per cent. Nippon Yusen rose as much as 9.9 per cent, Mitsui OSK by 9.2 per cent and Kawasaki Kisen as much as 8.5 per cent.

The three firms reported operating losses for six months to end-September and lowered their full-year forecasts.