Last updated: January 7, 2014 5:39 pm

Maersk to sell stake in Dansk Supermarked to focus on ‘four legs’

A Maersk Line container ship docks at the North Port Pier in Port Klang, Malaysia, on Monday, Dec. 31, 2007. Malaysia's export growth probably slowed in December as a cooling U.S. economy and a rising ringgit hurt demand for the Southeast Asian nation's electronics goods. Photographer: Goh Seng Chong/Bloomberg News©Bloomberg

Maersk Oil is one of five components of the Maersk group which also includes the world's largest container line

AP Møller-Maersk is selling most of its stake in Denmark’s largest retailer for $3bn as the shipping-to-oil conglomerate continues to prune its sprawling portfolio.

Maersk is close to ending a 50-year relationship with Dansk Supermarked by selling back a 49 per cent stake in its retail business and a smaller stake in a department store chain to the Salling companies, connected to the founder of the retailer.

The sale is another step in the push by Nils Andersen, Maersk’s chief executive, to turn Denmark’s biggest company by revenues into what he calls “a premium conglomerate”.

Known mainly for its container shipping business – the world’s largest – Maersk also has oil, ports and drilling units that Mr Andersen is keen to bulk up.

The sale of most of its stake in Dansk Supermarked – which owns 1,363 stores mostly in Denmark but also in Sweden, Germany and Poland – resolves one of the biggest strategic questions around Maersk’s huge array of assets.

“It is obviously not a core business,” said Mr Andersen. “It’s not that we need the money for any other transactions. We have a very strong balance sheet.”

He insisted that Maersk’s 20 per cent stake in Danske Bank, Denmark’s biggest lender, was not for sale as it was “strategic”.

Maersk’s relationship with Dansk Supermarked goes back to 1964 when the son of the retailer’s founder approached the conglomerate over an investment. Together they turned what had been a relatively small business centred on the northern Danish city of Aarhus into Denmark’s biggest supermarket chain.

Maersk is not cutting all ties with the retailer. It will retain a 19 per cent stake for five years, at the end of which the group will have a put option to sell to the Salling companies, which will equally have a call option over the shares.

The disposal comes a day after Maersk sold 15 crude oil tankers to Euronav for $980m in a further sign of its willingness to shake up its assets. Maersk still owns dozens of tankers – a sector that has struggled in recent years – but is keen to focus more on refined oil.

Mr Andersen has attempted to make the traditional conglomerate and its executives more focused on performance. He has given each business unit a target for return on invested capital and held the company’s first investor days, in which shareholders have been able to grill managers from the container shipping, oil, ports and drilling divisions.

The push to make Maersk stand on “four legs”, as Mr Andersen puts it, came after the container shipping division – by far the biggest by revenues – posted deep losses after the global financial crisis. Maersk Line has since cut costs and despite ongoing gloom in the sector is now solidly profitable. 

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