State-owned French railway and transport company, SNCF, will sell its railcar and tank container operating unit Ermewa. The transfer of ownership will take place in October, sources close to the case confirmed to CargoForwarder Global. New proprietors will be the Canadian Caisse de Dépôt du Quebec (CDPQ), and German capital investor, DWS, both holding 50%.
Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français (SNCF) needs money, a great deal of money to achieve its aim of becoming Europe’s largest, eco-friendliest, and most profitable railway company by 2030. It is an extremely ambitious undertaking in view of the Group’s enormous debt totaling 38.4 billion euros (30JUN21).
Dual SNCF strategy
To restore SNCF’s financial trajectory and up its competitiveness within Europe where rail services are being liberalized, leading to throat cut competition, the management decided to pursue a dual strategy: reduce structural and operating costs on the one side, and concentrate on core business activities on the other.
That is the background to Ermewa's pending sale since the SNCF leaders do not consider their railcar lessor as belonging to the company’s core competencies.
And this despite the fact that the Ermewa Group is a leading European provider of industrial railcars and tank containers, with revenues of €489 million, an EBITDA of €271 million (both figures: financial report 2020), a fleet of 100,000 assets, and 1,200 employees. It runs offices in 17 European countries, and specializes in designing, optimizing, and managing strategic assets for the global supply chain. Headquartered in Paris, the Ermewa Group offers the rail transport market expertise from industries such as energy, steel, construction, food and beverages, as well as mining or automotive, among others.
A ‘railvolution’ is needed to significantly up the rail transport quota,
emphasizes Peter Reinshagen, Managing Director of Ermewa. The modal shift from road to rail is an important goal of the Group to reduce the CO2 emissions of the transport industry. However, this will require a lot of staying power, Mr. Reinshagen admitted to CFG at an event in Lyon. Many approaches have so far failed because of insufficient digitalization, making intermodal and transnational cargo rail carriage difficult. Poor data exchange also affect repair times for damaged railcars, as users often only report a technical defect without specifying the problem ex ante. Thus, when a defunct railcar arrives at the maintenance and overhaul shop, the technicians first have to determine what exactly needs repairing or replacing. These railcar downtimes could be significantly reduced through efficient data transfer.
Soon, such issues will land on the table of Ermewa’s capital investors, CDPQ and DWS, who, in cooperation with Mr. Reinshagen and his team, will have to set obstacles aside to further increase the value of the French asset manager.
According to internal sources, the top management will not be replaced after the transaction has been inked.
DFW under pressure
Upon completion of the transaction in October, provided the EU competition watchdogs consent the deal, the capital of the Ermewa Group will be held in equal shares by CDPQ and DWS.
The two investors have promised a long-term commitment, so they do not just want to make a quick buck following the acquisition.
However, the deal is shaded by negative reports about Deutsche Bank subsidiary DFW, which manages assets of 18 billion euros. A whistleblower told the authorities that the fund has partially violated the criteria of “Environment, Social, and Governance” (ESG) investments aimed at creating sustainable assets for its clients. Companies such as Raytheon, a manufacturer of combat drones and other military armament, or the Australian-British mining group BHP, a leading global resources company in which DWS holds a stake, have a high ESG risk.
Meanwhile, DWS has denied these allegations.
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