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CSCL eyes port/logistics projects to diversify risk

HONG KONG, Aug 23 (Reuters) - China Shipping Container Lines Co. Ltd. (CSCL) , the world's number six container shipper, plans to expand into the container terminal and logistics businesses to diversify risk in a cyclical industry.

The fast-growing CSCL will buy terminal and logistics assets from its state-owned parent, China Shipping Group, and from other companies, Chairman Li Kelin said in a results briefing.

"Our board of directors has decided to develop terminal and logistics businesses at the appropriate time," he said, but declined to give a timetable.

China Shipping Group has port investments in China and Los Angeles, with projected annual throughput of about 10 million 20-foot-equivalent units by 2010.

Its parent has also teamed up with Wharf (Holdings) Ltd.'s Modern Terminals Ltd. to seek investment opportunity in Shanghai's multi-billion dollar Yangshan port project.

CSCL, which earlier this year overtook China COSCO Holdings as the country's largest container carrier in terms of capacity, is optimistic over its performance in the second half and 2006, despite peaking freight rates.

"There will be some volatility in container freight rates next year, and they may fall slightly," Li said.

"But we are in a good position, and our operating costs are relatively low compared with international peers," he added.

CSCL on Monday reported a 41 percent rise in first-half net profit to 2.14 billion yuan (US$263.9 million), boosted by volume growth and a 5 percent year-on-year rise in freight rates.

Its average cost per TEU also rose 9.7 percent in the first half, mainly due to higher container and fuel charges.

But freight rate per unit fell 3 percent to US$732 during the reported period from US$754 in the second half of 2004.

Li said he expected freight rates to rise in the second half when the peak season comes.

CSCL has benefited from above-average capacity growth in a shipping market where rates have remained firm, and the company aims to become the world's third-largest container liner by 2010 through the purchase of new ships, chartering and mergers.

But Li denied recent rumours that CSCL was interested in buying CP Ships Ltd. , which received a US$2 billion cash offer from TUI over the weekend.

"We have compared a number of shipping firms," Li said, but there were no talks and no bid.

CSCL plans to take delivery of 11 new vessels with capacity of 48,188 twenty-foot-equivalent units (TEUs) in the second half of 2005, lifting total capacity to 349,072 by the year end.

Shares in CSCL ended down 1.5 percent at HK$3.275 on Tuesday, down about 21 percent from their peak of HK$4.125 in April.

(US$1=HK$7.8=8.11 yuan)