MSC Says in Talks to Buy Stake in Italy’s Ignazio Messina

LONDON, Feb 14 (Reuters) – The world’s no. 2 container line Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) is in talks to acquire a stake in smaller Italian counterpart Messina, the Swiss-headquartered group said, in another sign of consolidation in the sector.

Container lines are battling their worst ever downturn due to a glut of ships and weaker demand – prompting rivals to form vessel-sharing arrangements or pursue other measures including mergers and acquisitions.

Privately owned MSC said it had held a meeting on Friday in Genoa with Messina and senior management from lender Banca Carige.

“The aim of the meeting was the possibility of an entry by MSC Group into the shareholding of the Genoa-based group,” MSC said in an emailed statement sent on Tuesday.

“MSC Group and Gruppo Messina, thanks to the availability shown by Banca Carige, will continue their dialogue with the objective to reach an agreement between them.”

A source familiar with the matter said Banca Carige was Messina’s key lender and also a major financier for Genoa-based shipping companies.

Earlier this week, Genoa-based Carige reported a 297 million euro ($313.90 million) loss for 2016, hit by loan writedowns.

The bank set aside 470 million euros in cash against loan losses, 47 percent more than the previous year, due in part to the outcome of an on-site inspection the European Central Bank carried out in the first half of 2016.

Founded in 1921, Messina has a small fleet of specialised ro-ro container ships, the company’s website showed. MSC has close to a 14 percent global market share, according to data from leading consultancy Alphaliner.

The world’s number one player Maersk announced in December it would buy German rival Hamburg Süd. This followed other sector deals including a proposed merger between German container shipping line Hapag-Lloyd and United Arab Shipping Company.

A unit of MSC said this month it had bought a stake in U.S. ports operator Total Terminals International from collapsed South Korean line Hanjin. ($1 = 0.9462 euros) (Reporting by Jonathan Saul; Editing by Adrian Croft)

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