The K+N Chief’s advance concerns the Hamburg-headquartered logistics company HHLA and its Bremen-based competitor Eurogate. His vision: Both players should merge the sooner the better, creating a unified German stevedoring company that offers handling services from a single source at all ports located along the North Range.
Both HHLA and Eurogate are basically willing to bundle forces but failed reaching an agreement so far. Now K+N owner Klaus-Michael Kühne, a native of Hamburg himself, wants to speed up the matter and cut the gordian knot by stepping into the role of a white knight.
Talks are good, but action is better…
…is Mr. Kühne’s firm believe. He regrets that despite merger negotiations that have been ongoing since May 2020, no visible results have been tabled so far. The biggest obstacle is a decision on who will be the majority shareholder in the new company and thus who will call the shots. Hamburg’s HHLA is the larger player by tonnage and revenues while its Bremen/Bremerhaven-based competitor Eurogate is the sole terminal operator in Wilhelmshaven, the only deep-water port on the German North Sea coast. This is a huge bargaining chip for Eurogate because of the increasing number of large container vessels with a draught of up to 16.5 meters, capable of transporting 20,000 TEU or even more. These ocean giants, if fully loaded, can no longer reach the port of Hamburg, despite the recent dredging of the Elbe River.
Abandoning well-trodden paths
To regain lost market shares, new structures and efforts are indispensable for attracting shipping lines to discharge their containers at one of the German seaports. This all the more since the TEU handled in Rotterdam and Antwerp is outgrowing volumes processed at the German seaports Hamburg and Bremen/Bremerhaven. A merged stevedoring company, offering tailored services at lower costs compared to today’s level, is key to success, argues Mr. Kühne. Figures prove his point: TEU throughput in Hamburg, Germany's leading seaport, has been stalling for years totaling 8.5 million units, while Rotterdam (15 million) and Antwerp (12 million) have gradually gained market shares. Bremen/Bremerhaven is lagging with 4.6 million TEU.
However, what looks simple on paper, the merger of competitors HHLA and Eurogate, is highly complicated in reality. To resolve the smoldering conflict between both competitors, Kühne has now proposed that K+N Holding joins the bandwagon by becoming a shareholder in a future unified maritime handling company.
Financially, this should not be a problem for him. The assets of his Kuehne + Nagel Holding are valued at EUR 32.5 billion (2021).
In an interview with the local newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt, he left open the size of the shareholding. But judging by his 30% stake in the Hapag-Lloyd shipping line and his 20% stake in the Hamburger SV soccer club, it is probably a double-digit amount before the decimal point.
Productivity must go up, costs down
Kühne's advance also aims to increase the productivity of port operations. In this respect, the German stevedoring companies trail their competitors in Rotterdam and Antwerp. While at the latter ports up to 32 TEU per hour can be moved thanks to advance automation, the German seaports only manage a maximum of 25 TEU per hour.
That's too slow and costly, Kühne says. Without fundamental changes, the German seaports are threatened with a further loss of loads and thus a deterioration of their competitive position along the North Sea coast, he warns. In the meantime, both Eurogate and HHLA have responded positively to Mr. Kühne’s proposals.
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