Hanjin Shipping Co. received five initial bids for its Asia-U.S. business as a South Korean court kicked off the process to sell the nation’s largest container line that fell victim to excess capacity and slowing global trade.
Hyundai Merchant Marine Co., Korea Shipping Association, Korea Line Corp. and private equity firm Hahn & Co. were among those that have expressed interest, according to the companies, while the Seoul Central District Court, overseeing the receivership, declined to disclose the fifth bidder. The submissions will be followed by a due diligence of the assets, which include offices and vessels that operate on the trans-Pacific trade. Final bids are due by Nov. 7.
The process heralds the beginning of the end of Hanjin, which filed for bankruptcy protection late August after creditors balked, setting off disruptions in supply chains around the world. Hanjin Shipping, once the world’s seventh largest container line, this week said it’s winding down its Europe route.
"The real issue will be the price and how one evaluates intangible assets," said Ma Ji-hwang, a senior researcher at Hana Institute of Finance in Seoul. "That’s why the due diligence process will be important to shed light on what assets will be available in the sale. The Asia-U.S. shipping operation is pretty much what’s going to be left of Hanjin."
A decision on the winning bid is due later next month. The South Korean company, whose market value is about 196 billion won (USD 171 million), is also in talks to sell its 54 percent stake in the Long Beach port container terminal, according to the Seoul court.
The government has said that Hyundai Merchant, which is owned by state-owned Korea Development Bank, will serve as the national flag carrier for the country’s exports and is looking at measures to help improve the industry’s competitiveness.
"Exports are very important for South Korea," Hana's Ma said. "That’s why the government will try to bolster Hyundai Merchant and buying Hanjin’s asset could help build up scale."
Hyundai Merchant said in a separate e-mailed statement that it’s considering various measures to strengthen its position, including taking over Hanjin’s assets and manpower.
Michael Storgaard, a spokesman for A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S, declined to comment if the Copenhagen-based company’s shipping line was interested in buying the Hanjin assets before the initial bidding deadline.
Hanjin had 7 percent market share on the Asia-U.S. trade in the first six months of this year, according to the company. It hauled 1.85 million 20-foot containers on the route in 2015, accounting for 40 percent of its total 4.62 million.
Of the 97 container vessels it operated, unloading of cargo from 82 ships has been completed as of Oct. 26, according to Hanjin’s website. On the court’s advice, the company has been returning chartered vessels to owners as soon as they are unloaded.