EU and US Join Japan in Antitrust Raid of Leading Car Carrier Operators [UPDATE]

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September 7, 2012

UPDATE 1:  The EU and US have joined Japan’s antitrust probe of some of the world’s leading car carrier operators.

Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics said in a statement Friday that it has also received requests for information from the E.U. Commission and both Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics and EUKOR have received requests for information from federal U.S. authorities and the Competition Bureau Canada.

In a statement, the EU’s antitrust unit confirmed that raids were carried out at “the premises of several providers of maritime-transport services for cars and construction and agricultural rolling machinery.”

Meanwhile, Gina Talamona, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department in Washington, also confirmed in an e-mail that the agency’s antitrust division “is investigating the possibility of anticompetitive practices involving the ocean shipping of cars, trucks, construction equipment and other products.”

“We are coordinating with the European Commission, the Japanese Fair Trade Commission and other international competition authorities,” Talamona said, declining to elaborate further.

(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 5.3 percent to 144 yen, its lowest since at least 1974, at the 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.”

Fair 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 the 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.

-By Chris Cooper and Kiyotaka Matsuda. Copyright 2012 Bloomberg.
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