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Denmark's Maersk to spin off drilling, hand Total shares to investors

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By Reuters
Denmark's Maersk to spin off drilling, hand Total shares to investors
FILE PHOTO: The MV Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller, the world's biggest container ship, arrives at the harbour of Rotterdam August 16, 2013. REUTERS/Michael Kooren   -   Copyright  Michael Kooren(Reuters)

By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Stine Jacobsen

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Danish shipping company A.P. Moller-Maersk <MAERSKb.CO> said on Friday it would spin off its offshore drilling operation and list it in Copenhagen next year as it focuses entirely on transport and logistics.

The Danish company, which cut its full-year profit outlook this month, last year sold Maersk Oil to French oil major Total <TOTF.PA> in a $7.5 billion (£5.9 billion) deal as part of its restructuring.

Soren Skou, who became chief executive of Maersk in 2016, has embarked on a major restructuring to concentrate on its transport and logistics businesses and separate its energy operations. The CEO used to head Maersk’s container business and is a long-time veteran of the Danish firm.

As part of the sale of the oil unit, Maersk in March took a 3.7 percent stake, or 97.5 million shares, in Total. It sold stock worth $1.2 billion in July, leaving it with 78.3 million Total shares, Maersk said. Total has a market capitalisation of 137 billion euros ($156 billion), Thomson Reuters data shows.

Following the demerger of Maersk Drilling, a “material part” of its remaining shares in Total will be distributed to shareholders, Maersk said.

Maersk shares were up by 3 percent at 0727 GMT after opening up more than 4.5 percent, while Total was little changed.

Maersk said that having evaluated different options for the drilling unit it had “concluded that Maersk Drilling as a stand-alone company presents the most optimal and long-term prospects for its shareholders”.

The Danish firm also said it had secured debt financing of $1.5 billion from a consortium of international banks “to ensure a strong capital structure after a listing”.

Credit rating agencies Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s both downgraded Maersk’s credit rating to levels close to the lowest investment grade levels in 2016.

Maersk’s borrowing costs would rise sharply if it fell below investment grade and it has vowed to do “whatever it takes” to protect its rating.

It said on Friday the spin-off would release cash proceeds of around $1.2 billion, which Fearnley analysts said was above the $0.5-1.0 billion expected by the market.

“Moreover, the distribution of Total shares supports our view of an extraordinary dividend potential of around 5-8 percent in both 2019/ 2020,” Fearnley added.

An outright sale of Maersk Drilling has been made difficult by an oversupplied drilling rig market, which has not yet recovered despite a recent gain in oil prices.

However, Maersk said on Friday that global rig demand continues to rise, albeit at a slow pace, while oversupply still keeps utilisation rates at a moderate level.

The announcements came as Maersk confirmed preliminary second-quarter earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of $883 million.

(Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Stine Jacobsen; Editing by Alexander Smith)