February 23, 2016 / 9:50 PM / 2 years ago

UPDATE 2-Australia's Asciano, suitor report weaker sales as commodities downturn bites

* Asciano, Qube both report H1 lower revenue on commodities rout

* Qube says still in talks with Brookfield in joint Asciano bid (Releads to include Qube results, adds shares, comments)

By Byron Kaye

SYDNEY, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Australian freight giant Asciano and the smaller rival trying to buy it for A$9 billion ($6.5 billion) both posted lower first half sales on Wednesday, strengthening the case for consolidation in a sector hammered by a commodities rout.

A day after revealing that its two long-standing suitors were now weighing a joint tilt, Asciano reported a 4.3 percent drop in revenue for the period, while net profit rose 5.3 percent due to cost cutting.

Suitor and cargo handler Qube Holdings Ltd also said sales fell 3.7 percent for the six months to Dec. 31 while profit eased just 1.7 percent, also as a result of reduced overheads.

Qube was vying with Canadian infrastructure fund Brookfield Asset Management to buy Asciano, which revealed on Tuesday that the two companies were now weighing a joint bid to end the fiercest takeover battle currently being waged in the Asia Pacific.

The results of both Qube and Asciano underscore the downturn in global commodities demand which has hit Australia’s resource-reliant economy, and how companies must now rely on consolidation and cost-cutting to survive.

The iron ore industry has particularly suffered as main customer China cut back on purchases, resulting in shuttered mines and constrained haulage volumes for logistics companies.

“In the absence of new revenue, cost management is going to remain a focus,” Asciano Chief Executive Officer John Mullen told a post-results briefing.

He said the decline in port volumes in Western Australia was the “biggest its been for some time”, but added that coal haulage volumes rose 11.8 percent in Queensland state, a bright spot in an otherwise flat rail division.

Asciano shares held steady, while the broader market fell 1.5 percent, as investors bet on more benefits from cost savings and a growing sense of hope that a takeover battle between Qube and Brookfield is nearing an end.

Qube shares rose 1.4 percent. The company gave few details about a proposed joint bid with Brookfield for Asciano, disclosed a day earlier, but confirmed that the companies would own Asciano’s ports in a fifty-fifty joint venture, while a host of global backers including China Investment Corp would get the railways.

“All those things have to be worked through in discussions (but) the idea is it would be a separate joint venture with its own management team,” Qube Managing Director Maurice James said on a separate analyst call.

$1 = 1.3883 Australian dollars Editing by Miral Fahmy

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