Westports shares fall towards IPO price as vessel-sharing alliance looms

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 23 (Reuters) - Shares in Westports Holdings Bhd, Malaysia's busiest port operator, fell towards to their IPO price of 2.50 ringgit after a strong debut last week, on concerns of less port calls and weaker earnings if a mega shipping container alliance materialises.

The P3 alliance, announced in June, brings together the top three shippers, CMA CGM Group, A.P Moller Maersk's Maersk Line and Mediterranean Shipping Co, to share vessels and cut costs in the face of weaker container freight rates.

The P3 alliance posted up preliminary schedules late last week that shows a reduction in the number of calls made to Port Klang, where Westports is one of two main port operators and accounts for 69 percent of container traffic.

Westports shares fell for a second day on Wednesday, closing 1.17 percent lower at 2.53 ringgit ($0.80), as investors grew concerned over weaker earnings if European Union anti-competition authorities green light the P3 alliance next year.

"We believe the market is not fully discounting the potential earnings impact of P3 and as we view the shares expensive," said Barclays Research in a note to clients, initiating an underweight call and a target price of 2.20 ringgit.

Westports told the stock exchange later on Wednesday that Port Klang would now among the ports of call for 6 services out of the 26 being proposed by the P3 alliance for Asia-Europe and Mediterranean trade lanes.

That represents a drop from 10 services out of the 30 run by the three shippers currently, although Westports said the alliance will not affect future earnings.

"To date, we have not been informed by our customers of any material changes to their hubbing strategy or throughput volumes and further, the P3 service routing only represents a portion of their volumes to Westports, the firm said.

"We believe that our growth prospects remain intact, supported by growing global trade ...and our own initiatives to achieve operational efficiencies," it added.

Last week, Westports shares rose as much as 8.4 percent to 2.71 ringgit per share on its debut as institutional funds and retail investors left out during the pre-IPO process chased a small flotation. ($1 = 3.1725 Malaysian ringgit) (Reporting By Yantoultra Ngui; Editing by Niluksi Koswanage)