ZURICH - Kuwait-based Agility Group is talking to Panalpina over a tie-up that complicates Danish rival DSV's $4 billion bid for the Swiss logistics group that is being fought by Panalpina's biggest shareholder.
Panalpina and Agility said on Friday they were discussing how the two companies' logistics operations could work together. Agility, with 22,000 employees and $4.6 billion in annual revenue, has been expanding globally under managing director Tarek Sultan.
Panalpina added it was still reviewing the DSV proposal "according to its fiduciary duties".
The entry of Agility into the fray provides the Swiss company with an alternative to DSV's offer. The Ernst Goehner Foundation, which owns 46 percent of Panalpina, has said it wants the company to be an industry consolidator, not prey for a rival.
Panalpina "is in discussions with Agility Group on potential strategic opportunities with regard to their respective logistics businesses," Panalpina's board of directors said in a statement. "The discussions between the two companies are at a preliminary stage."
Agility said in a statement on its website it was "always exploring opportunities to grow" but that there are no guarantees a deal will be reached.
A rival proposal could force DSV Chief Executive Jens Bjorn Andersen to sweeten his cash-and-shares offer for Panalpina. Andersen, who said last week he remains in pursuit of a deal, has faced hurdles in Switzerland as he seeks to grow DSV's footprint, having failed last year in his $1.55 billion bid for Swiss freight forwarder CEVA Logistics.
An analyst from Baader Helvea said Agility's entry shows Panalpina is looking for other options beyond DSV. "We see this as another indication that the main Panalpina shareholder will not accept the current offer from DSV," wrote Christian Obst in a note to investors.
Panalpina shares were indicated 1.7 percent lower in pre-market activity after closing on Thursday at 149 Swiss francs, below the DSV offer worth around 170 francs per share.
The 20 largest freight forwarders control only about a third of the market, making the industry potentially ripe for takeovers or partnerships as companies seek to boost profitability and take advantage of economies of scale.
(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Michael Shields) ((J.Miller@thomsonreuters.com; +41 58 306 7734; Reuters Messaging: firstname.lastname@example.org))