The owner of one of the world's biggest container-shipping companies is considering putting the business up for sale, people familiar with the matter said, as the industry battles a prolonged slump.

Hamburg Sud, the seventh-largest container-shipping operator world-wide in terms of capacity, is part of the Oetker Group, a family-owned German conglomerate, involved in shipping, banking, food and beverages.

The Oetker family is discussing a sale of the shipping business, but no decision has been reached, one of the people said. "If a sale is decided, the process could start before the end of the year," the person said.

A Hamburg Sud spokeswoman declined to comment.

Container ships that move 95% of the world's manufactured products are struggling to emerge from one of the deepest-ever down-cycles, marred by anemic global trade and a glut of tonnage in the water that have pushed freight rates well below break-even levels for more than two years?and the top dozen players deeply into the red.

In its latest earnings statement, Hamburg Sud said it had revenue of $6.73 billion in 2015, but gave no net-income figures. The company has 3% share of global container capacity, according to data provider Alphaliner, moving 600,000 containers aboard around 70 ships.

Hamburg Sud's fleet is valued at roughly $1.4 billion, according to VesselsValue, another maritime data provider.?

The industry's downturn has kicked off a rare wave of consolidation with many of the 20 biggest operators either joining alliances or merging to weather the crisis. Hamburg Sud and Israel's Zim Integrated Shipping Services Ltd. are the only ones in the group left without a partner.

Korea's biggest operator, Hanjin Shipping Co., filed for court receivership in August and is being chopped up and sold in pieces. Japan's three largest shipping companies?Nippon Yusen K.K., Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. and Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd., said in October they would merge their container operations.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that Zim is seeking buyers for its global container network and plans to shrink into a regional Mediterranean carrier. Zim denied it is looking to sell assets.

Denmark's Maersk Line, Germany's Hapag-Lloyd AG and China's Cosco Group are seen by shipping executives as potential buyers of Hamburg Sud assets if the sale goes ahead.

HamburgSud, which traces its roots back more than 100 years, previously explored a merger with Hapag-Lloyd but talks collapsed in 2013 over pricing and who would run the merged entity.

Write to Costas Paris at costas.paris@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 27, 2016 19:55 ET (00:55 GMT)

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