PIL dismisses takeover target speculation
SINGAPORE-BASED independent mid-scale carrier Pacific International Lines (PIL) has brushed off suggestions that it is a likely takeover target, pointing instead to the improving container shipping environment that is pushing up industry profitability.
A spokesman for the company, Lisa Teo, said its current shareholders were committed to ensure PIL continued to serve its customers and staff and she declined to speculate on the attractiveness of the carrier as an acquisition target.
"The liner market had improved significantly in the first half and most shipping lines are fully aware that it is not sustainable to provide quality service at rates that are below costs," Ms Teo told IHS Media.
PIL is due to take on the first of 12 new Chinese-built and financially backed 11,800-TEU ships later this year and is expected to rely heavily on Cosco to find work for the new vessels, which are targeted at the trans-Pacific trades, including a planned entry into the US East Coast market in 2018, according to Alphaliner.
"The deployment of our newbuilding is constantly under review and we will release our deployment strategy at an appropriate time," Ms Teo said.
In an analysis of the industry following Cosco and Shanghai International Port Group's US$6.3 billion offer for Hong Kong-based Orient Overseas (International) Ltd, Alphaliner said there were now just four independent mid-scale carriers, each with market shares of between 1.5 per cent and 2.8 per cent.
Alphaliner said the other three mid-sized carriers - Yang Ming, Hyundai Merchant Marine, and Zim Integrated Shipping Services - were all government linked, making them unlikely targets outside their home countries.
"This leaves PIL as the only unencumbered candidate, and its niche position, in particular, on Africa-related trades, could make the carrier an attractive target for buyers keen on securing access to this emerging market," Alphaliner said.
PIL, which is controlled by the Chang Teo family, does not publish regular financial reports, but it posted a significant net loss in 2016, due to "very low freight rates and a one-off bunker hedging loss" in the first half of the year. The company carries a total debt of more than $2.6 billion, according to Alphaliner.
While the spot market has generally improved compared with the record lows of 2016, it is very trade specific. Rates to some of the African destinations have risen this year, as have India Subcontinent and the Middle East where PIL has a solid network, but the trans-Pacific where the carrier intends to expand its services has seen the spot market fall sharply from the highs reached in January/February, a drop of 45 per cent.