SOUTH Korea's Busan-based SM Line has spent US$646 million bolstering its stake in fellow Korean liner HMM, sparking further conjecture of a takeover, reports Singapore's Splash 247.
HMM, which the Korean government has been keen to sell, is nearly 10 times larger in TEU terms than SM Line, a company which was founded around the time of the collapse of another famous name in Korean container transport, Hanjin Shipping.
Nevertheless, SM Lines, a specialised carrier that provides trans-Pacific and intra-Asia shuttle services, now holds a 5.52 per cent stake in HMM and is the carrier's third largest shareholder. The rumour mill in Seoul has restarted talk of a takeover, something denied by SM Lines when it was first revealed to have invested in HMM shares in December last year.
SM Group, which has a background in the construction industry, has bought out shipping lines in recent years, including Korea Line Corp and Samsun Logix, now rebranded as Korea Shipping Corp.
SM Group chairman Woo Oh-hyun is well known in Korean business circles as an expert in mergers and acquisitions. The scale difference between SM and HMM has many questioning whether Mr Woo can manage a buyout of this size. HMM is the world's eighth largest liner and is on track to have a fleet in excess of 1 million TEU soon, while SM Line lies in 22nd place in Alphaliner's carrier rankings with a fleet totalling around 85,000 slots leading one business reporter in Seoul to question whether this "shrimp" could swallow a "whale".
HMM has been under the control of state creditors for many years, but Seoul has indicated in recent months it is looking to privatise the line.