Watch Now

Analysis: Apex deal makes Kuehne + Nagel largest air forwarder

The firm provides trans-Pacific logistics service provider for Amazon

A Boeing 747 freighter loaded through its nose. Kuehne + Nagel has invested in more Asia-Pacific airfreight logistics. (Photo: Kuehne + Nagel)

(Updated Feb. 25, 8:50 A.M. ET)

Swiss logistics conglomerate Kuehne + Nagel International AG will become the largest airfreight forwarder in the world when it completes its purchase of Apex International Corp., edging out DHL Supply Chain, according to 2019 shipping data.

Kuehne + Nagel, currently ranked second, arranged movement for 1.6 million metric tons of airfreight in 2019, while Apex managed 520,000 tons. The combined volume of 2.12 million metric tons exceeds the 2.05 million tons handled by DHL, lists compiled by Armstrong & Associates and Transport Topics show.

Apex, the 11th-largest airfreight intermediary, experienced 44% growth in air cargo last year, moving 750,000 metric tons of cargo, according to Kuehne + Nagel.

Kuehne + Nagel is already the world’s largest ocean freight management company, with nearly 4.9 million twenty-foot equivalent units under its control in 2019.

The third-party logistics provider announced Monday it had signed a definitive agreement with Apex’s South Korean owner MBK Partners for an undisclosed amount, subject to customary regulatory approvals. Apex management will retain a minority stake in the company. 

The deal is valued at about $1.5 billion to $2 billion, according to Reuters. The figure suggests an enterprise multiple of 14.6 times EBITDA, Jefferies equity analyst David Kerstens said. Apex will add 9% to Kuehne + Nagel’s revenues and increase its Asia-Pacific share of total revenues from 11% to 19%, he said in a research note. 

Airfreight forwarders are enjoying very high yields because of the current squeeze in aircraft supply, pushing up their values.

On Wednesday, Kuehne + Nagel said it formed a strategic partnership with Jointown, China’s largest non-state-owned pharmaceutical distribution company, to accelerate its footprint in pharma and healthcare logistics in China.

Apex, founded by Tony Song in 2001, also is a major airfreight consolidator that charters freighters from airlines and sells the space to other forwarders and shippers. One of its top customers is Amazon, said Evan Armstrong, who runs an eponymous logistics research and consulting firm based in Milwaukee.

“They do a lot of export business for Amazon so they’re tied into Chinese customs. They’ll actually consolidate U.S.- to- China e-commerce shipments, and then they’ll do the ground delivery in China for Amazon,” he said in an interview.

Apex also supports air and ocean transport for Amazon orders for goods made in China.

Apex helped support the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency’s emergency airlift last year of personal protective equipment from China for use by health care workers combating the initial coronavirus surge. Other customers include HP and American Eagle, said Armstrong, who has conducted on-site visits at Apex facilities in the U.S.

Full freighters controlled by Apex typically arrive in Chicago multiple times per week, he added.

Absorbing Apex gives Kuehne + Nagel a bigger piece of the e-commerce and high-tech markets in Asia, and access to Apex’s block space agreements and buying power with airlines on the U.S.-China trade lane. Apex, which already has an office in Amsterdam, will gain expanded capabilities in Europe and Latin America, Armstrong explained.

But Kuehne + Nagel can’t simply count all Apex’s air business as its own, cautioned Christos Spyrou, CEO and founder of independent logistics cooperative Neutral Air Partner in Hong Kong. Since Apex is an airfreight master co-loader as well as a forwarder, other forwarders that give it business may not do so to the same degree because they consider K + N as a direct competitor, Spyrou said based on feedback from local companies.

Apex is also one of the larger freight forwarders operating in Vietnam.

It has about 1,600 employees and generates annual sales of about $2.2 billion. There are 35 Apex branches, including 10 in North America and two in Europe, according to its website.

Click here for more FreightWaves and American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


Kuehne + Nagel buys Hong Kong forwarder Apex

S.F. Express merger with Kerry Logistics creates logistics powerhouse

Alibaba moves into Japan with third-party logistics service

Alibaba launches South Korea logistics service

F3: Future of Freight Festival


The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.

Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. In December 2022, he was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]