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China COSCO eyes turnaround options, stock down sharply

A Chinese national flag flies in front of COSCO's headquarters in Beijing August 26, 2010. REUTERS/Barry Huang
A Chinese national flag flies in front of COSCO's headquarters in Beijing August 26, 2010. REUTERS/Barry Huang

By Alison Leung

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The world's largest bulk shipper, China COSCO Holdings Co Ltd <1919.HK> <601919.SS>, faces the risk of delisting for its Shanghai shares if it fails to turn around in 2013, after having warned of a second straight year of losses.

China COSCO, which posted a net loss of 10.4 billion yuan ($1.7 billion) for 2011, ranks as the world's sixth largest container ship operator, but has been battling the impact of a supply glut and weak demand that have becalmed the industry.

Other firms to run into turbulence are oil tanker operator Nanjing Tanker Corp <600087.SS>, which could face share suspension, and China Shipping Container Lines Co Ltd <2628.HK> <601866.SS>, which has narrowly escaped curbs on share trading.

State-controlled COSCO and the Chinese government are reviewing ways to restructure the company's business and help make it profitable again, analysts said.

"Asset sales seem to be a likely option for COSCO, but it also depends on the market condition and its management's strategy," said Geoffrey Chang, an analyst at BOCOM International.

Nathan Snyder, an analyst at CLSA, said, "We value its fleet at over $6 billion by marking the assets to secondhand prices, so selling and leasing back a portion would give enough gains to cover 2013 losses."

The company's stock fell sharply in Hong Kong on Monday after the shipping conglomerate said last week it expected to record a significant net loss for 2012 and faces the risk of the delisting of its A shares in Shanghai.

COSCO stock lost as much as 7.2 percent to reach HK$3.99 in mid-morning trade, although it recouped some of its losses to stand down 5.4 percent near the close of trade. It underperformed a slight rise in the broad Hang Seng <.HSI>.

China's securities rules provide for companies reporting two consecutive years of losses to be placed in a "special treatment" category that limits the daily trading movement of their shares to 5 percent, instead of the regular 10 percent.

A third straight year of losses for COSCO could result in a suspension of trading, with the risk of being delisted.

NANJING TANKER

But China COSCO is not the only company in the shipping sector that faces the spectre of being delisted.

Oil tanker operator Nanjing Tanker Corp <600087.SS>, whose shares have been placed under "special treatment", is likely to be the first Shanghai-listed shipping firm to face a share suspension, which would be followed by a possible delisting.

Owned by state-owned Sinotrans and CSC group, Nanjing Tanker is expected to post a net loss of 795 million yuan in 2012, based on a poll of six brokers by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Another shipper, China Shipping Container Lines Co Ltd <2628.HK> <601866.SS>, was more fortunate. It escaped the "special treatment" category after saying this month that it expected to post a net profit for 2012, helped by sales of container boxes to its parent.

The global shipping market remains challenging in 2013 amid a lingering supply glut and weak demand, which have wounded China COSCO and other international shipping firms in the past two years, analysts said.

The Baltic Exchange's main sea freight index <.BADI>, which tracks rates for ships carrying dry commodities such as iron ore and coal, fell about 60 percent in 2012 to its lowest year-close since 1986.

The index has rebounded 14 percent so far this year, but the market outlook remains weak and volatile, analysts said.

CLSA forecasts China COSCO to post a net loss of 7.8 billion yuan in 2012 and a 2.4 billion yuan loss in 2013.

COSCO, controlled by state-owned China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company, operated 171 container vessels and 337 bulk cargo vessels at the end of September. About 220 of the bulk cargo vessels were owned by the company.

It also controls COSCO Pacific Ltd <1199.HK>, a container lessor and port operator. ($1=6.2205 Chinese yuan)

(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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