Toll, APL purchases shake up Asia-Pacific logistics

Within days of each other, two Japanese firms have made plays to more firmly establish themselves in the global logistics sector by announcing plans to acquire two logistics giants in the Asia-Pacific region.

Soon after Japan’s Kintetsu World Express said it was purchasing air- and seafreight forwarder APL Logistics from Singapore-based Neptune Orient Lines (NOL) for about US$1.2 billion, Japan Post Holdings Co. Ltd. announced that it would pay US$5.1 billion to assume control of Australian firm Toll Holdings Ltd.

The Japan Post-Toll deal, pending approval by Australian regulators, would be the world’s largest takeover bid in the logistics sector since the 2006 purchase of Excel by DHL for US$5.5 billion. Based on Toll’s share price on the Australian Stock Exchange, the $5.1 billion bid would be nearly 50 percent higher than the market value of the freight and logistics conglomerate.

In a conference call to investors and the press, Japan Post’s CEO Toru Takahashi said the company was interested in Toll for its robust air, road, rail and shipping presence across the Asia-Pacific region. “We believe the Asian region will continue to be a growth engine,” he said.

Besides its core postal service, the state-owned Japan Post also owns a wide range of businesses, including banks, insurance companies and hospitals, and has estimated assets totaling about US$2.47 trillion. The move is expected to make Japan Post competitive with the likes of express firms FedEx, UPS and DHL, as well as rapidly expanding e-commerce firms, such as China-based Alibaba and Singapore’ SingPost. Japan Post has also entered a joint venture with Sankyu Logistics, one of the largest contract logistics firm in the Asia-Pacific region.

Recent financial performance, however, has been declining at Japan Post. For the first six months of fiscal 2015, total revenues were down 2.6 percent, compared to the same period in FY2014, which its net profit, after special items, fell by 22.3 percent over the same period.

Meanwhile, Melbourne-based Toll, which had suffered a decline in its postal volumes in recent years, has been restructuring itself to handle the rise in e-commerce business and said last year that it wanted to shed about US$78 million of its assets and build up its global logistics operations.

With Toll under its wing, Japan Post will gain a logistics presence in 55 countries. Toll will keep its name and will continue to be managed by its current CEO, Brian Kruger, as a division of Japan Post Group, the company said. Toll Chairman Ray Horsburgh added that the merger will make Japan Post “one of the world’s top five logistics companies.”

“We have made a first step toward becoming a global logistics company,” said Japan Post Holdings President Taizo Nishimuro in a prepared statement. “The days are over when logistics companies can survive by shutting themselves within Japan.” The government of Japan, which currently owns all of Japan Post’s shares, has long planned to hold an initial public offering for the postal service later this year.

At Kintetsu, the plan behind the deal for APL – also subject to regulatory approval, which is expected by June – is to expand the freight company’s reach beyond the borders of Japan and broaden its reach into APL’s market, which includes North and South America. APL, the logistics unit of NOL, earned 62 percent of its sales from the Americas last year, while 27 percent came from Asia and the Middle East, and 11 percent came from Europe.

“NOL has decided to dispose of its logistics business and focus on improving its core liner shipping business,” read a statement from Neptune Orient. “The net proceeds of the sale of APL Logistics will be applied to strengthen the financial position of the NOL Group, including to repay its borrowings.”

APL focuses mostly on forwarding high-tech products, such as computers, semiconductors, mobile-phone parts and automobile components. More than a third of its business is based in intra-Japan shipments.

Last year, NOL reported a net loss of US$260 million, more than three times the US$76 million loss it suffered in 2013. “Our goal is always to get the liner back to profitability as soon as possible,” said NOL’s president and CEO Ng Yat Chung.

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