Exclusive: Tycoon Fredriksen sees tanker market weak for at least 2 years

OSLO Wed Jun 5, 2013 4:22pm EDT

OSLO (Reuters) - Shipping magnate John Fredriksen expects the tanker market to remain depressed for at least two more years, but is more optimistic about the outlook for other arms of his shipping empire, he told Reuters on Wednesday.

Oslo-born Fredriksen, estimated to be worth $11.5 billion by Forbes magazine, said he was focusing most of his shipping investments in oil rigs and that he had not yet decided whether to raise his $1.7 billion hostile bid for Norwegian salmon farmer Cermaq ASA CEQ.OL.

Fredriksen - who earned the nickname "Big Wolf" from risk-taking early in his career - controls one of the world's largest offshore rig companies, Seadrill Ltd (SDRL.OL), as well as crude tanker firms Frontline Ltd (FRO.OL) and Frontline 2012 FRNT.NFF as well as dry-bulk shipping Golden Ocean Group Ltd (GOGL.OL).

The global shipping sector has seen four years of crisis as vessels purchased in an order binge before 2008 hit the waters, creating overcapacity as demand remains anemic.

The crude tanker market has been hit the hardest and Fredriksen sees the downturn continuing for a while.

"The oil tanker market, it is pretty bleak over the summer," he said in an interview. "I do not see any special things before at least another couple of years. At least, for the crude oil tankers. That is not too optimistic."

Fredriksen was more upbeat about other shipping businesses.

"I am more optimistic about the oil products market. We have taken some substantial positions. We have ordered a lot of eco-friendly ships. We hope that looks much better," he said.

When it comes to the dry bulk market, "we are more optimistic on that side," he said. "We hope that the market will come in the middle of next year."

The Cypriot businessman has made substantial profits in recent years in the offshore drilling sector via his company Seadrill, which has an aggressive growth strategy with 19 new rigs incoming. He said the good times are poised to continue.

"The rig market is still very good. We are very optimistic. We think it will last another three to five years."

FISH WAR

Fredriksen's hostile bid for Cermaq CEQ.OL is through his company Marine Harvest ASA (MHG.OL), the world's largest fish farmer.

Earlier on Wednesday, Marine Harvest said it had eased the conditions of its bid, signaling it would take a minority stake if it was unable to win over a majority of shareholders.

Cermaq's main shareholder, the Norwegian state, has so far rejected Marine Harvest's advances.

It argues the price is too low - even though Marine Harvest lifted its offer to around 107 crowns per share last week from 104 crowns and said it would be prepared to offer another five crowns.

Fredriksen said he "had not yet decided" whether to raise his offer again, as some investors have been expecting.

Asked whether he had spoken to the Norwegian trade and industry minister, Trond Giske, about the bid, Fredriksen said he had not.

Was he trying to speak with the minister? "Not really," he said.

(Writing by Victoria Klesty; editing by Matthew Lewis)

A couple walks along the rough surf during sunset at Oahu's North Shore, December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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