UPS Inc. did not counter FedEx Corp.'s $4.8 billion buyout bid for Dutch delivery firm TNT Express. Nor could it prevent the European Union (EU) from approving the acquisition. But it still seems determined to annoy its archrival.
Atlanta-based UPS said today it would appeal the Brazilian government's unconditional approval of FedEx's acquisition of TNT Express, which has a sizable position in the intra-Brazilian package-delivery market. In a statement, UPS said it would avail itself of a mechanism in the Brazilian merger-review process to "consider a more in-depth review" of the government's ruling, which was issued Feb. 2. UPS said it acted to "ensure a fair and thorough investigation" of the deal.
Besides Brazil, TNT Express, whose primary business is in Europe, also has operations in China. Chinese authorities have yet to act on the companies' merger application. TNT Express has struggled in Brazil due to the contraction of the Brazilian economy, and its China business has been impacted by weak export demand from European end markets.
In a statement, Memphis-based FedEx said the two companies are "making timely progress" in working with Chinese and Brazilian authorities, and reaffirmed earlier predictions that the deal will close during the first half of the year. A FedEx spokeswoman declined comment beyond the remarks in the statement.
UPS, whose $6.8 billion buyout offer for TNT Express was scuttled by European antitrust authorities in January 2013, had tried to derail the FedEx-TNT Express deal in Europe, according to Jerry Hempstead, a former top U.S. executive at Airborne Express, a parcel carrier acquired by DHL in 2002, and subsequently rebranded with the DHL name. UPS' efforts, though, were dwarfed by DHL's. DHL is the largest parcel carrier in Europe and wields the most clout in Brussels, the EU capital. According to Hempstead, the company went to great lengths to try to block the deal.
In the end, however, regulators approved the transaction because FedEx's European market share, estimated in the low single digits, was small enough that a combination with TNT Express would not impair the competitive landscape, said Hempstead, who runs an Orlando-based transport consultancy. By contrast, authorities scuttled the UPS-TNT Express deal because of UPS' bigger market share in Europe at the time, he added.
Hempstead suggested the UPS appeal in Brazil, which is designed to delay the process and force FedEx to spend more legal and lobbying dollars, could be a blessing in disguise for FedEx. FedEx and TNT Express could agree to hive off TNT Express' China and Brazil operations into stand-alone business, reduce FedEx's overall purchase price, and just retain TNT Express' European network, Hempstead said. "Europe is the prize," he said in an e-mail.
Operating in Brazil and China these days is not for the faint of heart, nor the shallow of wallet. Brazil, a tough country in which to do business in the best of times, is in its deepest recession since the 1930s. Brazil's central bank said Thursday that the economy shrank 4.08 percent in 2015, the worst performance since the indicator was created in 2003. Meanwhile, growth in China has slowed dramatically from the breakneck pace of a few years ago, and there is concern over the health of China's banks and its real-estate market, as well as the government's ability to bring its economy in for a soft landing.