Sunday, August 10, 2008

Consolidation of the Package Delivery Market in Europe

The Sunday Telegraph reported today that UPS has made an informal offer of $15 billion (10 billion Euro) to purchase TNT suggests that we may be watching the beginning of a major consolidation of express and parcel carriers in Europe. The price discussed is around 25% more than TNT's share price in mid-July when the Financial Times reported that FedEx was interested in TNT. UPS's offer is not unexpected as some investment analysts suggested, at the time time of the report of both FedEx and UPS would be interested in TNT. At that time some analysts suggested that UPS would be in a stronger financial position to buy TNT and if a bidding war broke out. As UPS's reported bid amount is about equal to the value of TNT based on the stock's close on August 8, 2008, the reported bid does not represent a premium on TNT's current market valuation.

The Telegraph report provides significantly more detail than the earlier report on FedEx's interest in TNT. The report includes the names of the investment advisers for both TNT and UPS and indicates that A.T. Kearney has completed a study for UPS's adviser in the deal, Morgan Stanley. The report also indicates that TNT's mail operations would be sold, possibly to CVC, the European buyout firm that owns interests in both De Post-La Post and Post Danmark. (Post Danmark also has agreed to merge with Posten, the Swedish Post Office) It is unclear whether the price for the postal operations is included in the $15 billion cost of the deal. Given that some of the increase in TNT's price over its price in mid July when rumors of a possible takeover first surfaced reflect the decline in oil prices, it is possible that the value of a deal when consummated will be greater than $15 billion. Also, what is unclear is whether TNT's ground parcel business would convey to UPS or the purchaser of the postal business.

The purchase of TNT by UPS would have a significant impact on competition within Europe. Currently, the five largest express competitors are TNT (17%), DHL (16%), UPS (8%), La Poste (the French Post Office) 7%, and FedEx (6%). The remaining 46% of the market is divided the national post offices and regional operators. With the merger UPS would be the clear market leader with 25% of the intra-European market and would be in stronger position for traffic between Western Europe and the rest of the world than the remaining two other global competitors, DHL and FedEx. Most importantly, UPS would then be in a better position to fill up its growing capacity in China and the rest of Asia with express traffic going between China and Europe than carriers with a smaller market position in Europe. In addition, UPS's stronger position in Europe would give it the opportunity to take market share from DHL and FedEx in the trans-Atlantic market.

The sale of the postal operations makes sense given that mail is not part of UPS's core business.
The proposed sales of TNT's mail business raises questions about the long term financial viability of European national posts, and in particular the posts of smaller countries. A merger of the TNT mail operations with Posten (Sweden), La Post (Belgium), and Post Dankan (Denmark) creates an entity with greater heft when competing with the larger national posts in Germany, France, and Great Britain. If TNT's growing ground parcel business remains with the postal entitity then the merger would have created a significant European competitor in parcels with particular strengths in the Benelux and Nordic regions. Without TNT's European ground parcel business, it is not clear how much an outside investor would be willing to pay for just mail services.

The merger of TNT's mail services with that of the other posts could have some positive impact on service. It could result in improved coordination of cross-border mail service among the linked companies with the possibility of stronger service to Great Britain and other regions where TNT has established itself as a leader in the competitive mail business.

Finally, if this merger goes through, one would expect that other competitors in the European market to start looking at defensive moves to improve their business position. The easiest
linkage to imagine is one between FedEx and LaPoste, since they have had a business relationship since at least 2000, but less obvious mergers may occur with a focus of FedEx and/or La Poste working to strengthen their position on a country by country basis. On the mail and ground parcel side, one could see an interest in smaller posts in Eastern and central Europe exploring mergers and operating agreements. The logical leaders in this region are Deusche Post, Oesterreich Post, and Swiss Post.

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