German Hapag-Lloyd workers march against NOL takeover

Madeline Chambers

Nearly 300 workers from German shipping group Hapag-Lloyd protested on Tuesday against a possible takeover by Singapore’s NOL a day before the cabinet is due to pass a law to shield domestic firms from foreign buyers.

Singapore’s Neptune Orient Lines and a group of Hamburg investors are on the short list to buy Hapag-Lloyd, the world’s fifth largest container shipping group and a unit of Germany’s TUI, Europe’s biggest travel firm.

If NOL is successful, the deal would create the world’s third-largest container carrier.

But the offer by NOL, 66 percent owned by Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings, has caused concern in Germany, not least about possible job cuts, and the government has welcomed the Hamburg bid to keep the firm in German hands.

Close to 300 Hapag-Lloyd employees marched outside the Singapore Embassy in Berlin, blowing whistles, ringing bells and waving banners saying “Hands Off Singapore!” and “Save Our Jobs!”, a company spokeswoman said.

It is one of several instances recently of foreign firms or funds either taking stakes in or showing interest in German firms which have sparked concern about foreign influence in strategic sectors.

In response, ministries have drawn up new rules to allow the government to review and even veto purchases by foreign investors of stakes in domestic firms of 25 percent or more if national security is at stake.

Economists have warned, however, that any signs the government of the world’s biggest exporter of goods is taking a protectionist turn could frighten off foreign buyers.

Other cases which have caused concern in Germany include the purchase by Taiwanese group BenQ of a mobile phone business from Siemens which a year later went bankrupt with the loss of 3,000 German jobs.

ermany has also made clear to Russia that it should not try to boost its stake in European aerospace group EADS after state-controlled Russian bank VEB bought a roughly 5 percent stake.

NOL CEO says takeover would be good for Hapag
Jan Dahinten

German shipping group Hapag-Lloyd would benefit from a takeover by rival Neptune Orient Lines, as did U.S. container group APL when it was bought by the Singapore firm, the FT on Wednesday quoted NOL’s boss as saying.

State-controlled NOL’s offer to buy Hapag in a deal estimated to be worth up to 5 billion euros ($7.4 billion) has caused concern and protests in Germany, not least about possible job cuts.

The German government has welcomed a bid by a group of Hamburg-based investors to keep the firm, a unit of travel company TUI, in German hands.

“APL was acquired by a foreign company as a company that at the time had a 150-year history and has many of the same emotions and concerns on the part of the people that worked for APL in terms of being acquired by a foreign company,” NOL Chief Executive Ron Widdows told the Financial Times.

“The fact is if APL had not been acquired by NOL it would not exist today,” he said, adding that APL’s brand had survived the takeover because NOL had been thoughtful about what it was buying.

NOL bought American President Lines in 1997 and has kept the brand name for its core container shipping business. Widdows, who took over as CEO last month after the abrupt exit of German-born CEO Thomas Held, joined NOL at the time of the APL takeover.

“I’m a personal example of how you can put two companies together and take advantage of the strength of what is inside those organisations,” Widdows said.

The fact that NOL is 66 percent owned by Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings has added to the controversy in Germany. On Tuesday, nearly 300 Hapag-Lloyd workers protested outside Singapore’s Berlin embassy against the possible deal, a day before the cabinet is due to pass a law to shield domestic firms from foreign buyers.

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