Auto handler in port bought by equity firm

BUSINESS DIGEST

June 22, 2006|By MEREDITH COHN | MEREDITH COHN,SUN REPORTER

The port of Baltimore's largest handler of automobiles was sold to a New York equity fund that also owns a rival auto processor in town.

Together, the firms will make sure dealerships around the country and globe have stocks of such makes as Ford, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Jaguar, Nissan, Hyundai and Porsche.

An affiliate of New York-based Lincolnshire Management Inc. bought Jacksonville, Fla.-based Amports, the processor, for $107.8 million from Associated British Ports, the United Kingdom's largest terminal operator. The acquisition includes auto-processing services in Baltimore and four other U.S. ports.

A spokesman for Associated British Ports said the company was divesting itself of noncore assets to focus on its ports business.

Officials at Lincolnshire and Amports couldn't be reached for comment. It was not clear how local operations, management jobs and longshoremen hours would be affected as Amports and the other processor, ATC Logistics International Inc., are moved under one roof.

Auto processors receive cars imported by ship and make sure stereos and other parts work. They also can install parts, clean and paint cars. Workers put them on trains and trucks toward the dealerships. They also handle exports, which include cars owned by military personnel stationed overseas.

Automobiles are one of the port of Baltimore's largest cargoes, with more than a half-million handled each year. The port makes money from leasing car lots and from fees on the cars. Amports owns property in Fairfield and leases land in Dundalk. ATC leases and owns property in South Baltimore.

In 2002, when Lincolnshire bought ATC, a company official said it was an "excellent time to enter this industry" because auto manufacturers were seeking to reduce the high cost of in-plant labor.

The firm, which focuses on acquiring small and middle market companies, has made more than 50 acquisitions in a variety of industries over the past 18 years.

Richard Scher, a spokesman for the Maryland Port Administration, which oversees the state-owned port, said officials there "had a good feeling about how it could improve business."

"Previously they were both very strong players, and now they'll be even stronger players under the same ownership," he said.

He said they have complementary businesses, with Amports' strong presence in the United States and ATC's strong presence in Mexico and elsewhere.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

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