NOL may be sold if price is right, says CEO

Neptune Orient Lines (NOL) president and group chief executive Ng Yat Chung is not ruling out the possibility of selling the shipping firm.

"The company has a duty to consider all options to maximise shareholder value," Mr Ng told a results briefing by telephone yesterday. "Hypothetically, if we receive a good price, of course, we will consider selling - in the same way we had a fair (offer) for APL Logistics and we decided to sell it in the best interest of shareholders."

NOL announced in February that it had sold the profit-making APL Logistics to Japanese freight carrier Kintetsu World Express for US$1.2 billion (S$1.6 billion).

The loss-making shipping liner has been in the spotlight recently after a Wall Street Journal report, citing unnamed sources, said that Singapore investment firm Temasek Holdings has put the company up for sale. Temasek owns about 67 per cent of NOL, according to Bloomberg data.

Mr Ng added yesterday that the shipping liner is now "totally focused on returning the liner business to profitability".

And done so it has: NOL posted a net profit of US$890 million for the second quarter, reversing the US$53.7 million loss from the same period a year ago.

The group had suffered six straight quarters of losses previously. Excluding the US$887 million gain on the sale of APL Logistics, net profit was US$3 million.

Revenue for the three months to to June 30 sank 22 per cent to US$1.32 billion due to lower turnover from its liner business from planned capacity cuts, void sailings and low freight rates.

Net profit came in at US$878.7 million for the half-year, turning around the net loss of US$151.7 million previously, while revenue fell 19 per cent to US$2.9 billion.

Earnings per share for the quarter came in at negative 0.42 US cents, an improvement over the negative 2.94 US cents a year earlier. Net asset value per share soared to US$1.02 as at June 26, well up on the 67 US cents as at Dec 26.

NOL said the second quarter saw "severe freight rate erosion", with rates in major trade lanes falling to some of the lowest levels seen in recent years.

"The group's container shipping business continued to face a challenging environment characterised by over-capacity and weak market demand," said Mr Ng in a statement. "We remain focused on improving our cost competitiveness, yield optimisation and service reliability to return the liner business to sustained profitability."

NOL shares closed unchanged at 92 cents yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2015, with the headline 'NOL may be sold if price is right, says CEO'. Subscribe