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Nippon Yusen, Wilhelmsen Raided by Antitrust Regulator

Sept. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Japan’s antitrust regulator raided the offices of five shipping lines, including Nippon Yusen K.K. and Wilh. Wilhelmsen ASA, that control about 70 percent of the global market for carrying cars.

Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics, a unit of Wilhelmsen, is being investigated in Japan for a possible breach of an anti-monopoly act that involves price fixing, Benedicte Gude, a Lysaker, Norway-based spokeswoman for the company, said in a phone interview today. Nippon Yusen, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd., Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd. and Eukor Car Carriers Inc. also said their offices were searched.

Nippon Yusen, the world’s biggest owner of car-carrying vessels, plunged fell 5.3 percent to 144 yen, its lowest since at least 1974, at close of trading in Tokyo. About 10 shipping lines are suspected of discussing raising rates together for transporting cars to the U.S., Europe and other parts of Asia from Japan since 2008, Kyodo News reported, without saying where it got the information.

“The key to watch is what kind of fine will be imposed if the commission confirms the allegations,” said Minoru Matsuno, president of Value Search Asset Management Co., a Tokyo-based investment advisory firm. “It’s difficult to imagine it will cause a vital blow to the companies given their finances.”

Fare Trade Commission

The Fair Trade Commission officials entered Nippon Yusen’s offices earlier today and the company is cooperating with the investigation, the shipping line’s spokesman Jiro Tanida said by telephone. Nippon Yusen isn’t aware of the reason for the search, he said.

Offices of Mitsui O.S.K., Japan’s second-largest car carrier, were searched by the commission and the shipping line is cooperating, spokesman Yasuyuki Fukuma said by phone. Kawasaki Kisen spokesman Jitsuo Narita and Eukor Car Carriers Inc. spokesman Osamu Tani also said their companies’ offices were searched.

Isao Kasubuchi, director of management and planning division at Japan Fair Trade Commission, declined to comment on the investigation.

The five companies are the world’s five biggest car-carrying lines, controlling about 70 percent of the global market, according to Nomura Holdings Inc.

Mitsui O.S.K. declined 2.7 percent to 181 yen, while Kawasaki Kisen, Japan’s third-largest shipping company, was unchanged at close of trading. Wilhelmsen fell 2.8 percent to 45.7 Kroner at 9:54 a.m. in Oslo.

Nippon Yusen transported 2.92 million vehicles in the fiscal year ended March 31, according to the company. The carrier has predicted it will carry 15 percent more vehicles this fiscal year. The shipping line also forecast a rebound to profit of 20 billion yen ($255 million) in the year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Cooper in Tokyo at ccooper1@bloomberg.net; Kiyotaka Matsuda in Tokyo at kmatsuda@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Neil Denslow at ndenslow@bloomberg.net

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