China Dongfeng Motor said to weigh options for Peugeot stake

A model posing by a car made by the Chinese brand Dongfeng motor group at the Shanghai Auto Show in Shanghai, China. (AFP pic)

HONG KONG: Dongfeng Motor Corp is exploring options for its US$2.5 billion stake in Peugeot owner PSA Group including a potential divestment, people with knowledge of the matter said, as the companies grapple with a global slowdown in the automotive market.

The Chinese state-owned manufacturer held talks in recent weeks with potential advisers about ways to monetize part or all of its 12.2% stake in the French carmaker, according to the people.

As part of the strategic review, Dongfeng Motor has discussed possible transactions including a straight sale of PSA shares or issuing exchangeable bonds backed by PSA stock, they said.

The funds would shore up Dongfeng Motor’s finances at a time when rivals are spending billions on electric vehicles and autonomous driving systems.

The global car market is deteriorating as shifts in technology and weakening economic growth give consumers fewer reasons to go to the showroom.

Traditional automakers are trying to fight back by slashing jobs and pursuing mergers and alliances.

Dongfeng Motor, which has a local venture with PSA, plans to coordinate with the French carmaker if it decides to sell down so that it can preserve a good working relationship, the people said.

Deliberations are at an early stage, and there’s no certainty they will lead to a deal, they said.

The Chinese automaker may hold onto part of its PSA stake to potentially benefit from future industry consolidation, the people said.

A disposal could upset the delicate balance between Dongfeng Motor, the French government and the Peugeot family, which each own 12.2% of the company.

Dongfeng Motor acquired its holding – paying €7.50 apiece – as part of a 2014 bailout of the more-than-century-old carmaker that had fallen behind other mass market manufacturers.

PSA and Dongfeng Motor also agreed to team up in China, giving the French automaker access to what has since become the world’s largest auto market.

Shares of Dongfeng Motor Group Co, the state-owned automaker’s listed unit in Hong Kong, jumped as much as 7.2% in early Thursday trading.

That’s the biggest intra-day gain since September 2018. PSA closed 0.8% lower at 19.80 euros in Paris on Wednesday. The stock is up about 6% this year.

A representative for Dongfeng Motor said the company doesn’t have any information regarding the plan at the moment.

Representatives for PSA, the Peugeot family and the French finance ministry declined to comment.

China’s slowdown

In China, PSA has failed to attract customers because of its outdated models and a lack of SUVs.

That has contributed to a 60% decline in unit sales in Asia in the first half and left the Chinese facilities underused.

Chief Executive Officer Carlos Tavares has said he’d consider making cars in China for the US market.

Renting out capacity is also among options to tackle the issue, Chief Financial Officer Philippe de Rovira has said.

“Maybe Dongfeng also sees the risk to its investment” given PSA’s challenge to comply with stricter emission rules in Europe, said Demian Flowers, an analyst with Commerzbank.

“Since there is no obvious buyer ready to step in, I don’t see how this can be a positive for PSA stock.”

Underscoring the depressed state of the Chinese automotive market, Dongfeng Motor’s Hong Kong-listed unit saw second-half profit fall 30%, the most on record.

The company is slated to disclose first-half results later this month. China’s largest carmaker, SAIC Motor Corp, is expected to see its annual sales to fall for the first time in at least 14 years.