CMA CGM shareholder Robert Yildirim was not surprised by China’s rejection of the P3 Network but urged the carriers not to give up on the idea.
Speaking on the sidelines of the TOC Europe exhibition, Mr Yildirim, president and chief executive of Yildirim Holdings, said that having worked in China for more than 20 years, he was aware of the challenges that the three carriers would face in convincing Beijing to approve the P3 Network.
He said he expected Beijing to force the carriers to accept certain conditions that were in the interests of China and likened the situation to Glencore’s merger with Xstrata, where the deal was approved on the condition a project in Peru was sold to a Chinese company and the merged entity supplied the country with certain volume of copper concentrate.
However, he said he hoped the carriers would not give up on the idea and said he felt that eventually it would be realised that the P3 Network would benefit liner shipping.
“China will one day understand the P3 Network was not created to attack the other shipping lines but to reduce costs and give a better, faster more reliable service.
“I believe the market will show that the P3 was right idea and that the market needs it. If the P3 is approved it will also act as an example for other areas of shipping.”
He added that the P3, even though it hadn’t been approved, had a positive impact on container shipping, by forcing the G6 and CKYHE alliances to expand and improve their offering.
Mr Yildirim also spoke about his investment in CMA CGM, which amounts to a 24% stake following a 2011 investment of $500m in convertible bonds and an additional $100m injection in 2012.
The investment period in the company is five years, running to January 2016. At the moment Mr Yildirim and the Saadé family are still considering their options, which include the Saadé family buying Mr Yildirim’s stake, selling it as part of an IPO or selling it to a third party. It seems the Saadé family favour buying back his stake, he said. Overall, he said he was happy with his investment in the shipping line.
“The investment is doing very well,” he said. “The company has produced some fantastic results and I am going to stay until the end of my investment period and then we’ll see what will happen.
“The margins are some of the highest in the industry. The restructuring of the company went well and that’s why we are positive and I am happy that I have been part of the company during the restructuring and the growth.
“Both sides will be the winners in the end. The company was struggling and now it is back where it was before and it has gained a lot of value back and I am making money on my investment – that was the whole idea behind the investment.”
Last year, CMA CGM cut its net debt by 20% to $3.7bn and ended 2013 with a strong cash position despite difficult trading conditions that reduced core earnings by almost 27% to $756m.
The French line, for long regarded as vulnerable because of its high debt levels that topped $5bn before the financial restructuring, reported much stronger net profits of $408m, against $332m in 2012. That partly reflected the sale of a 49% stake in its ports business, Terminal Link.
2013 also saw rating agencies upgrade CMA CGM to B2 for Moody’s and to B (positive outlook) for Standard & Poor’s.