Korean Shipyard Mega-Merger Hits a Bump in Singapore


A South Korean plan to create a shipbuilding behemoth controlling roughly 20% of the global market is raising competition concerns in Singapore, one of many parties that have to approve the process.

Seoul announced the merger of debt-ridden Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. and Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co. in January, but the tie-up needs regulatory approvals from Japan, Singapore, China, Kazakhstan and the European Union to be sealed.

Regulators in several of those countries are looking at potential issues that could affect their own shipbuilders at a time when orders for new ships are at their lowest level in nearly a decade.

Singaporean regulators said they are concerned about the dominant role the yards have in producing liquefied natural gas carriers. Those ships carry high margins for producers and are in high demand as energy markets move toward natural gas.

“The parties are currently two of the largest suppliers for the global supply of LNG carriers, and possibly large container ships and large oil tankers,” the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore said in a statement over the weekend.

“There are concerns that the proposed transaction will remove competition between two main suppliers of these commercial vessels, to the detriment of customers in Singapore,” the statement said.

HHI and DSME together hold around 52% of the global order book for LNG carriers, according to marine data provider VesselsValue. The two yards also attract about a fifth of orders for other kinds of ships like tankers, container vessels and dry bulk carriers.

So far only Kazakhstan has given the green light for the merger.

The shipbuilding industry has been hurt in recent years by excess capacity as international trade has wavered. Financing vessel purchases has also grown more expensive as banks have reined back lending in a weak shipping market. Shipowners have held back from ordering new ships, sending global yards deeply into the red and forcing consolidation among shipbuilders.

“The plan was to complete the tie-up by the end of this year, but it has now been pushed back to the first quarter of 2020,” a person directly involved in the HHI-DSME merger said. “There are competition issues with Singapore and Japan and we don’t know what’s happening with the other regulators.”

The person said there are concerns that the merger could face hurdles in Tokyo as trade relations with Seoul have been strained over the past year following a ruling by Korea’s Supreme Court that Japanese companies must compensate families of South Korean workers who were forced to work for them during Japan’s occupation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

China, which builds more ships than any other country, announced last week the merger of its two biggest yards, China State Shipbuilding Corp. and China Shipbuilding Industry Corp.

A tie-up of Japan’s two largest shipbuilders—Japan Marine United Corp. and Imabari Shipbuilding Co.—is also in the works, while Singaporean sovereign fund Temasek Holdings Pvt. Ltd. is looking to merge the country’s two big yards, Keppel Corp. and Sembcorp Marine Ltd.

A second person involved in the Korean merger said Seoul, which has orchestrated the HHI-DSME marriage, will try to allay the Singaporean concerns.

Source: Wall Street Journal



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