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Published: 11 August 2006      

Simon Group to make US bid?

In a surprise move, the Simon Group may bid for P&O Ports’ US operations that DP World has been forced to put up for sale.

Even though Cobelfret is about to take over Simon’s UK port interests Timothy Chadwick, Simon’s executive chairman, has reportedly recruited several, unnamed, former US government officials and claims to have the finance from US sources in place.

It is not clear whether Cobelfret is involved in this initiative; more likely Chadwick, who was born in the US and was previously a director of Amports when owned by ABP, may form a separate vehicle to bid if Cobelfret is not interested. P&O Ports’ US portfolio had a turnover of US$447M last year and, according to Deutsche Bank, which is managing the sale for D P World, the EBITDA was only US$39M, much lower than the EBITDA for P&O Ports’ worldwide operations.

The US container terminal industry is in any event in a state of flux, as SSA Marine, the biggest US-owned operator, is up for sale. At one time it looked as though SSA, which is involved in several joint ventures with P&O Ports on the US east coast, would be a likely bidder for the latter’s US operations. Bids for the outright sale of SSA Marine are due by late July and are expected to be in the region of US$2B. Acting for SSA Marine is Citigroup.

Said to be interested are Carlyle Group and Australia’s Macquarie Bank and Babcock & Brown. Macquarie has also been linked with a bid for the US operations of P&O Ports. In 2005, SSA Marine’s US operations reported a throughput in excess of 4M TEU, equivalent to 15% of all containers handled in the US. It also has operations in Panama, Chile, Costa Rica, South Africa and New Zealand. The very high prices paid for port assets by the likes of DPW, PSA and Goldman Sachs in recent months may be driving port operators to sell up.

Orient Overseas (International) Ltd has just announced that it has appointed UBS Investment Bank to advise it “on a possible sale of its terminals division, in order to realise the true potential of these assets.” Specifically, OOIL will consider offers for TSI in Vancouver, BC (Deltaport and Vanterm), and NYCT and Global Terminal in New York/New Jersey. They recorded a record throughput of 2.379M TEU last year and strong growth continued in the first half of this year. Dedicated OOCL terminals in Long Beach and Kaohsiung are not included in the potential sale.

Meanwhile, D P World has put the cat among the pigeons. Reports in London say it is preparing to float with an expected value of about £6B. Press reports said it would sell a 20% stake and raise more than £1B. This raises the possibility that institutions that sold P&O in February will in effect be asked to buy part of it back for more than they sold it.

However, it is understood that other D P World assets, including the flagship Jebel Ali operation, would be offered as well. D P World’s chairman Bin Sulayem denied that any decsion had been taken on raising funds through a public listing in London or Dubai, but said that various options were being looked at - one indeed is an IPO but other options include issuing fresh Islamic bonds (sukuks). However, D P World issued a US$3.5B sukuk to help finance its acquisition of P&O and promised investors that it would consider a share sale within two years.

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