Maersk makes “big bet” on Asia with $3.6 billion logistics deal

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FILE PHOTO: Container ships in Suez Canal

By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Stine Jacobsen

COPENHAGEN -Container shipping giant Maersk on Wednesday agreed to buy Hong Kong-based LF Logistics for $3.6 billion in an all-cash deal that will add hundreds of warehouses in Asia and help it expand beyond its core ocean freight business.

The deal is one of the group’s largest takeovers to date and follows a series of acquisitions including logistics and e-commerce firms, a freight forwarder specialised in air freight and its smaller rival Hamburg Sud.

“Today we mainly help our customers import from Asia, but with this acquisition we make a big bet on long-term growth in Asia and on offering our customers better access to the Asian consumer,” Maersk Chief Executive Soren Skou said on a conference call.

Record high container freight rates stemming from the impact of the pandemic have boosted big shipping companies and prompted deal-making by Maersk and its rivals, including CMA CGM and Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC).

With chaotic conditions in the global supply chain, big companies have been willing to pay a premium for more reliable and integrated freight solutions.

Maersk will buy LF Logistics from Li & Fung Ltd, a Hong Kong-based supply chain manager, and from Singapore state investor Temasek which bought 22% of the company in 2019. The deal is expected to close in 2022.

With a network of 223 warehouses, including 49 in China, and around 10,000 employees in 14 Asian countries, LF Logistics provides land-based services such as warehousing and trucking to more than 250 global customers.

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Maersk plans to “turbo-charge” growth at LF Logistics by doubling revenue to $2 billion and operating profit to $500 million in four years.

With the deal, Maersk will own 549 warehouses globally and increase total warehouse floor capacity by 40%, creating the world’s seventh largest contract logistics company behind the likes of UPS, DHL and Kuehne+Nagel.

The $3.6 billion price tag implies that the valuation of LF Logistics has more than doubled since the Temasek deal valued the company at nearly $1.4 billion two years ago.

“The company has grown a lot since 2019, valuations in general are high, and we are paying a control premium which Temasek did not pay,” Vincent Clerc, head of Maersk’s ocean and logistics business, told Reuters in an interview.

Since breaking up its conglomerate in 2016, including selling its oil and gas business, Maersk has transformed into an integrated logistics company. The company aims to bring in half of its revenue from land-based services, up from around a quarter now.

Maersk shares, which have risen more than four-fold since March last year, were trading 0.1% higher at 1129 GMT.

(Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Stine Jacobsen; editing by Jacqueline Wong, Jason Neely, Kirsten Donovan)