Nippon Yusen Shopping for Oil-Service Asset as Crude Prices Drop

  • Company willing to pay several hundred million dollars
  • Considering deep-sea oil and gas pipe-laying companies

Nippon Yusen K.K., Japan’s largest shipping line, is looking to buy a company involved in deep-sea oil and gas operations as a drop in prices of the commodities makes it cheaper to acquire such assets.

The company is considering deep-sea pipe-laying businesses among others, and may spend “several tens of billions of yen,” equivalent to several hundred million dollars, to acquire a company, Hitoshi Nagasawa, head of the energy division, said in an interview in Tokyo.

Nippon Yusen is expanding oil and gas development activities to meet energy demand from China, Vietnam and other emerging markets, and as it projected a loss for its key container-shipping business in the fiscal half ended March. The company last year announced a plan to operate its fourth crude oil floating production, storage and offloading vessel with other partners, and in 2010 invested in a tanker business to bring crude ashore.

“The plunge in crude prices means companies are looking to sell assets and offshore oil-related companies are struggling financially,” Nagasawa said April 6. “We’re looking for areas we don’t have expertise in, which are growing and where barriers to entry are high.”

Nagasawa said he expects to make an announcement on the planned acquisition in the current fiscal year ending March 31.

Oil Declines

Crude oil prices have dropped more than 60 percent in the past two years. Subsea 7 SA, a London-based company that installs pipes for the oil industry, has seen its market value fall by about half in that period to 19 billion kroner ($2.3 billion) as the decline in oil prices curtails drilling activity.

Nippon Yusen isn’t considering buying Subsea but is looking at smaller companies with similar operations, Nagasawa said.

Ezra Holdings Ltd., a S$300 million ($222 million) Singapore-based provider of offshore logistics to the oil and gas industry, and Japan’s Chiyoda Corp. agreed in August last year to form a subsea services joint venture.

“Without a doubt oil demand is going to expand as the population increases,” said Nagasawa. “The standard of living is improving and that consumes more energy. In Vietnam people have switched to motorbikes from bicycles. Demand isn’t going away.”

Methane Hydrate

Nippon Yusen fell 1.5 percent to 200 yen as of 9:20 a.m. in Tokyo trading Friday. The company has lost 31 percent this year through Thursday, while the Nikkei 225 Stock Average has declined 17 percent.

Nagasawa said an oil-business acquisition would also help Nippon Yusen provide services to help extract Japan’s methane hydrate fuel deposits, which may be worth as much as 300 trillion yen ($2.8 trillion). Reserves of the gas are trapped in ice below the seabed around Japan.

“It’s our biggest opportunity,” Nagasawa said. “Development would need FPSOs and shuttle tankers.”

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