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Hanjin fate tested as Korea kicks off sale of Asia-US business

Friday, October 28, 2016 - 10:50

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As a court in Seoul starts selling parts of Hanjin Shipping Co, interest from potential buyers for its Asia-US business will determine the fate of South Korea's largest container line that fell victim to excess capacity and slowing global trade.

[SINGAPORE] As a court in Seoul starts selling parts of Hanjin Shipping Co, interest from potential buyers for its Asia-US business will determine the fate of South Korea's largest container line that fell victim to excess capacity and slowing global trade.

The Seoul Central District, overseeing the receivership filing by Hanjin, has invited bidders to turn in proposals by 3pm Friday. The submissions will give them a chance to carry out due diligence of the assets, which include offices and vessels that operate on the trans-Pacific trade. Final bids are due by Nov 7 after due diligence.

The process may herald 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. Hyundai Merchant Marine Co, which is owned by state-owned Korea Development Bank, said Thursday that it's considering bidding.

Hanjin Shipping, once the world's seventh largest container line, this week said it's winding down its Europe route.

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Market voices on:

"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-US 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 is also in talks to sell its 54 per cent stake in the Long Beach port container terminal, according to the Seoul court.

The government has that Hyundai Merchant 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 Mr Ma said. "That's why the government will try to bolster Hyundai Merchant and buying Hanjin's asset could help build up scale."

Michael Storgaard, a spokesman for AP Moeller-Maersk A/S, declined to comment if the Copenhagen-based company's shipping line would be interested in buying the Hanjin assets.

Hanjin had 7 per cent market share on the Asia-US 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 per cent 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.

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