Korea Development Bank (KDB) has started to approach potential buyers of its shareholding in container ship operator HMM.

State-backed KDB has a 20.69% shareholding in the South Korean liner giant. The government has been planning to significantly reduce its stake, which it acquired in 2016 when HMM ran into financial difficulties.

The government also holds a further 20% in the company through the Korea Ocean Business Corp (KOBC).

According to local reports, a series of potential buyers have been identified that would make a good fit with the HMM business, including LX Pantos, the logistics arm of the LX Group; Hyundai Motors; Hyundai Glovis; and steel maker Posco.

KDB wants to move quickly to take advantage of the remaining positive sentiment towards the liner sector, which is at the tail end of a boom.

There are concerns that liner markets could face difficult times next year, due to a global economic slowdown and the delivery of newbuildings.

The South Korean government has said its planned share sell-off will depend on the direction of the equity markets.

KOBC appears less committed to an immediate sell-off of its total shareholding.

Government officials have been quoted as saying that the KOBC shareholding will be sold in stages, but that the company wants to maintain a significant stake in HMM.

KDB earlier agreed to reduce its 55.7% shareholding in Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering to 28.2%. The Hanwha Group bought the KDB shares in DSME.

KDB also sold its stake in Daehan Shipbuilding.