Kuehne + Nagel is set to expand its presence in Asia with the purchase of freight forwarder Apex International Corporation – described as the largest acquisition in the Swiss company’s history.

The two parties said the purchase price would remain undisclosed for the time being, although a Bloomberg report values the deal at $1.5bn.

Apex was founded in China in 2001 and has expanded across Asia, making it an increasingly attractive takeover target – in 2015, the majority of its stock was acquired by Asian private equity house MBK Partners.

It has around 1,600 employees and generates yearly turnover of over Sfr2.1bn ($2.3bn). Last year, it handled approximately 750,000 tons of air freight and 190,000 teu of ocean shipments.

Detlef Trefzger, KN chief executive, said: “The combination of Apex and Kuehne + Nagel provides us with an opportunity to offer our customers a compelling proposition in the competitive Asian logistics industry, especially in e-commerce fulfilment, hi-tech and e-mobility.”

Tony Song, Apex chairman and CEO, said: “We are sure that with this transaction, we will be able to add value for our customers’ supply chains and expand our global logistics network. We will complement Kuehne + Nagel’s global air logistics team while offering our management and key talents unique career opportunities.”

The deal potentially means Kuehne + Nagel overtaking DHL Global Forwarding as the world’s largest air freight forwarder – in 2019, KN handled 1.6m tonnes of air freight compared with DHL’s 2.05m tonnes.

However, Loadstar Premium argued that most of the Apex’s air freight volumes are through wholesale activities – capacity that has been sold to other freight forwarders – and questioned whether third-party forwarders would want to buy capacity from it if it was controlled by KN.

The acquisition is subject to customary closing conditions, including merger clearance by the competent competition authorities.

KN said the deal would be financed by “available liquid sources and, if needed, by available credit lines”. It added that once completed, “a minor stake of Apex shares is to remain with the experienced and entrepreneurial management of Apex”.

It added: “The company will then continue to operate separately within the Kuehne + Nagel group.”

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