November 20, 2012 / 5:56 PM / 5 years ago

Shipping firm CMA CGM in profit, nears debt deal with banks

* French container shipping group posts Q3 profit

* Still profitable in Q4 despite easing freight rates

* Expects bank deal in January on new debt terms

PARIS, Nov 20 (Reuters) - CMA CGM, the world’s third-largest container shipping group, said on Tuesday it was on course for a full-year profit and expected to finalise a debt restructuring deal with banks in January.

The French family-owned firm has been through a turbulent three years in a freight sector under pressure from a weak global economy and oversupply of ships.

Volatility in freight has also led A.P. Moller-Maersk , owner of the world’s largest container shipping firm, to cut its exposure to this business.

CMA CGM, based in the Mediterranean port city of Marseilles, said it was profitable in the fourth quarter after reporting a cumulative net profit of $310 million in the first nine months of the year.

The market was less favourable in the current quarter, however, with freight rates declining in a sign of renewed pressure from overcapacity, Michel Sirat, CMA CGM’s finance director, told journalists.

“The fourth quarter won’t be as good as the third quarter. It will be positive (in profits) but not as good,” he said.

The company has been in talks with its banks over the past year to change its debt terms to take account of earnings volatility.

CMA CGM now expects to sign a deal in January after agreeing an outline for a debt restructuring with its main banks, Sirat said.

The deal would replace some debt covenants linked to core earnings to ones based on its balance sheet, while also rescheduling some repayments, he added.

Sirat said CMA CGM’s financial position would be reinforced by an agreement last month under which France’s strategic investment fund FSI is to invest $150 million, and Turkish shareholder Yildirim is to invest a further $100 million.

The group is also pursuing asset sales and plans to sell a 49 percent stake in Terminal Link, its container-terminal operator, Sirat said.

The group’s previously announced cost-reduction programme had generated $550 million in savings by the end of the third quarter, ahead of a target of $400 million for the full year, the company added.

CMA CGM reported a net profit of $371 million and core earnings of $617 million in the third quarter, it said in a statement. (Reporting by Matthieu Protard and Gus Trompiz. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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