By Ole Mikkelsen and Sabina Zawadzki
COPENHAGEN, Feb 25 (Reuters) – Danish shipping and oil group A.P. Moller-Maersk will hand shareholders a $6.6 billion windfall in dividends this year after it sells its 20 percent stake in Denmark’s biggest bank Danske.
Analysts had expected Maersk to announce the divestment of some assets on Wednesday as part of its strategy of focusing on its core shipping and oil divisions – but the Danske Bank stake had not been among the anticipated sales.
Maersk – the world’s largest container shipping company – said it would sell 15 percent to its controlling shareholder, the Moller family foundation, saying the deal ensured Danske remained in Danish hands and had a long-term major investor.
It will offer the remaining 5 percent to other existing Maersk shareholders, it added.
The conglomerate did not specify how much the foundation was paying for the 15 percent Danske stake, but said it would correspond to $5.5 billion.
That $5.5 billion will go to shareholders at about 1,569 crowns a share, Maersk said, and it also proposed dividends of $1.1 billion for the 2014 business year, or 300 a share.
Maersk’s shares jumped by as much as 7 percent and by 0900 GMT they were up 6.5 percent at 14,850 crowns.
“You’ll have a more streamlined conglomerate as an investment case,” said Alm. Brand analyst Jesper Christensen.
“They no longer have capital stashed in a bank and this will be looked upon positively, especially for the many foreign investors – for example from the U.S. – thinking ‘I want to invest in shipping, so why should I invest in a Danish bank?’.”
Ana Uggle, the granddaughter of Maersk’s founder and head of the foundation, told Reuters: “It is to ensure the long-term ownership of Danske Bank and ensure the bank’s roots in Danish society.”
In recent years, Maersk has sold off assets such as stakes in supermarkets and Danish shipping company DFDS as well as fleets of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) vessels and oil production and crude oil vessels.
The Danske announcement was made as Maersk published 2014 results broadly in line with analyst expectations from a Reuters poll. Net revenue was largely flat at $47.57 billion and net profit was up 37 percent to $5.2 billion – boosted by the sale of its stake in Danske Supermarked Group.
It booked $2.2 billion, or $1.9 billion after tax, in impairment losses at its oil unit. Most of that was a $1.7 billion writedown announced last year on the value of its Brazilian assets, the rest involved the value of its British assets after oil prices slumped in the second half of 2014.
It expects group underlying profit to fall to “slightly below” $4 billion this year from $4.1 billion in 2014.
But it expects underlying profit at its container shipping unit Maersk Line to be above the $2.2 billion in 2014. The business, often seen as a bellwether for global trade, has been struggling with low freight rates along with its peers.
“It’s a very volatile business, so when Maersk says it expects progress it’s a positive announcement,” said Frans Hoyer, analyst at Jyske Bank. (Additional reporting by Teis Jensen and Alexander Tange; Writing by Sabina Zawadzki; Editing by Pravin Char)
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