Macquarie Seeks Sale of U.S. Port Terminal Operator

Macquarie Asset Management is seeking to sell North American port facilities operator and stevedore Ceres Terminals, according to people familiar with the matter, even as the market for infrastructure assets faces challenges with rising interest rates and slumping trade activity.

The Australian investment fund is looking for about $1 billion, the people say, for the business with operations at ports in Houston, Baltimore, the Port of Savannah, Ga., and other gateways.

Macquarie is seeking a buyer because the 10-year fund that owns Ceres, Macquarie Infrastructure Partners III, is expected to wind down over the next 12 to 18 months, the people said.

Port container terminals around the world were in high demand in recent years as ocean carriers sought to spend billions of dollars in Covid-era profits and as the pandemic underscored the importance of controlling a critical piece of supply chains as goods reach ports on the way to inland destinations.

In 2021, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board bought Ports America, one of the biggest North American seaport terminal operators, from Oaktree Capital Management for $4.45 billion, according to a person familiar with the deal. French carrier CMA CGM and Singapore-based Ocean Network Express recently acquired terminals at some of the nation’s busiest container ports at Southern California and New York-New Jersey.

Ceres handles the loading and unloading of cargo at several major ports as a stevedore and operates terminals at secondary ports such as Jacksonville, Fla.

A sale this year faces challenges. Rising interest rates have stifled private-equity activity and slumping global trade has cut into freight volumes and profits across the shipping industry.

“It’s an interesting time to sell a ports business right now,” said a person familiar with the Ceres sale. “I certainly wouldn’t want to be a seller in this market.”

One person familiar with the sale said infrastructure funds are the most likely potential buyers for a diverse ports business such as Ceres. “There is a lot of infrastructure capital in the market,” the person said.

The person said one of the busiest terminals in the country, Maher Terminals at the Port of New York and New Jersey, is included in the same 10-year fund as Ceres. They said conversations haven’t begun on a potential sale of Maher.

Macquarie invested in Ceres Terminals in 2015 in a partnership with Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha. Macquarie acquired full control of the company in 2019.
Source: Wall Street Journal

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