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THE owners of closely held French shipping giant CMA CGM received US$3 billion in dividends this year as profits spiked to unprecedented levelsThe payout to shareholders, including France’s Rodolphe Saade and family, was disclosed in the company’s financial statement for the nine months to Sep 30. The dividends related to 2021 and the first half of this year.

The world’s No 3 container line has benefited from an industry boom fuelled by a surge in pandemic-related demand for consumer goods. While CMA CGM warned last week the upswing is subsiding as economic growth slows, third-quarter earnings were strong. Net profit surged 25 per cent to US$7.04 billion in the period, lifting results for the first nine months of the year to almost US$22 billion, an amount that surpassed the US$17.9 billion record for the whole of 2021.

CMA CGM is headed by Saade, the son of the founder, and is 73 per cent owned by the family through its Merit France SAS holding. Turkish family-owned company Yildirim Holding has a 24 per cent stake and French state fund BPIfrance 3 per cent.
Saade has come under pressure in France from some politicians calling for a windfall tax on the company. He told lawmakers at a hearing earlier this year that the shipping firm capped the dividend ratio at 10 per cent, reinvesting 90 per cent into the company. Through CMA CGM, he has bought into logistics companies, Air France-KLM and even a local newspaper, saying that he is eyeing more media assets. He has lashed out at proponents of a special levy on the company, and CMA CGM has announced a series of initiatives, including easing freight rates in France and spending on environmental projects.

Despite the recent pressure, the billionaire has raised his profile in France. He is travelling to the US this week with President Emmanuel Macron as part of a business delegation that also includes the son of luxury tycoon Bernard Arnault, and telecommunications billionaire Xavier Niel. With a private fleet of some 584 vessels, the Saade family is worth US$16 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.