Thoughts from Posidonia 2018

It’s an even-numbered year and it’s June, which – for those in shipping – can only mean one thing: it’s Posidonia time! And, Posidonia it was, the 50th occasion of the international shipping community convening to Athens for the industry’s flagship event.

The cold facts: it has been reported that more than 100 countries have been represented, more than 1,800 exhibitors showcased their trades and more than 22,000 visitors attended the event with an estimate of half of those visitors originating outside Greece. No one could doubt, based on such enormous numbers, the significance of the event to the maritime industry, and, by association, the importance of Greece and the Greek shipping community to the maritime industry. Posidonia has been a truly “must attend” shipping event for its size, the wealth of market info available, and, this being Greece, for its fun, party scene and the great weather!

Having attended Posidonia for numerous times now, one can get a “feel” of the market and observe a lot by just watching, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra. Here have been a few of our observations:

In June 2008, when the shipping markets were white hot and the BDI was topping 12000 points, the Posidonia attendance was standing at just 16,000 visitors; now, ten years later and the BDI at a tenth of its former glory (presently appr 1300 points), the Posidonia attendance was higher by almost 36%. It does seem that Posidonia 2018 was marginally better attended than Posidonia 2016 which was better attended than 2014, which was … Posidonia once again proves that it’s an exhibition with eternal appeal, in good and bad times, where participants congregate to seek market intelligence.

Given the state of the freight market in the last decade, there has been no exuberance this time around with the by-now famous “Posidonia party scene”, since long are the times when company parties were esteemed by the number of Russian models in attendance. However, we have noticed that there have been many more corporate events and receptions than in previous times, quite often discreet and with less noise; mostly dinner receptions where guests could discuss market developments under the full moon in the Greek summer breeze with a drink in their hands. Seeing greater social activity but of less noise and of higher caliber has been an encouraging observation, in our opinion, as it’s a sign that the market gets back to fundamentals and away from the pretense of the past times.

Although freight markets are weak, and frankly the crude tanker freight rates downright painful, we noticed an air of solid perseverance and mild enthusiasm. Posidonia traditionally has been one of the most optimistic conferences in shipping, in our opinion; however, this time we did not notice vainglorious enthusiasm of “bring it on” but rather guarded optimism that since we have survived these terrible markets so far, there is little else that can shock us. Things are getting better, or at least they will get better. Probably this weird mix of sarcasm, resilience and enthusiasm is another sign that the market is reverting back to the fundamentals and logic and away from unfounded enthusiasm and speculation.

And, what a better sign of speculation than newbuilding orders? While in the good times Posidonia was a time of announcing of massive newbuilding orders – just to keep up with the Joneses – this time around, there barely have been any newbuilding announcement; for sure, there have been a couple of them, mostly from well established shipowners and with an LNG focus, but the majority of the market has been keeping clear of new orders. Probably another encouraging observation that the market is slowly shifting back to fundamentals.

Newbuilding orders cannot take place without plentiful and cheap financing, and speaking of the devil, there barely were any financiers in the whole greater Athens region! In the past, shipping banks hosting Posidonia parties used to be a parallel event of its own; this time around, just a handful of banks held discreet dinner parties for their clients and closed advisors with little outward attention. And, even more importantly, a complete dearth of equity fund, hedge funds, mezz funds, credit funds, alternative capital funds and other representatives of “master of the universe” species… Most of the financiers we saw were traditional long-term shipping market players who have been through the ups and downs of the industry a couple of times. Gone were the opportunistic or speculative investors who were de rigueur in previous Posidonia, another sign of the market’s efforts to revert to the mean. On the funny side of things, shipping financiers seem to be getting special attention as shipping finance is very hard to come by these days, and shipping financiers are as precious as the apple in one’s eye these days.

Shipping finance has been a hot topic of the exhibition, as one would expect. Despite selective activity, most shipping banks keep exiting the industry and dumping shipping loans, while the cost of capital keeps going up for most, not to mention the increasing interest rates that pose an additional risk to the industry at a time of soft freight rates. Chinese leasing has been a strengthening trend as well as preference by shipping banks for corporate loans (instead of asset-based ship mortgages), while institutional investors kept bearing the deriding scorn of “dumb money” in shipping and the sinners of a tonnage oversupplied market.

But the critical topic of Posidonia 2018 has been the upcoming regulations for fuels and emissions; and, here, we left the exhibition as uncertain as we were when landing in Athens at the beginning of Posidonia. Multiple panels and presentations and opinionated discussions on emissions, but we drew the conclusion that no-one really has a crystal ball on the subject; the possible outcomes ranged from this being a non-event (postponement into the future) to being a catastrophic event (too costly and not enough volumes clean fuels) that would reset the industry to this being the greatest thing in shipping in the last decade (accelerated scrapping and disappearance of less-capitalized shipowners.) A wide range of opinions indeed that render decision-making in such a challenging environment not dear for the meek in the heart; but again, that’s how money is made.

The Greek shipping community still stands strong, and, in general, in the news in the last few years, especially when it comes to opportunistic vessel acquisitions in the secondary market. Despite market challenges, Greek shipowners keep buying ships (occasionally even at high financing costs), and this purchasing activity contrasts them to other shipping nations that have been less active, or even net sellers of vessels. Thus, a few self-congratulatory remarks were to be expected here and there.

Posidonia is for sure the shipping event to attend; so much info to be learned as the as the vastness of the big ocean itself!

Posidonia 2018. Image credit: Karatzas Images

© 2013 – present Basil M Karatzas & Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co.  All Rights Reserved.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:  Access to this blog signifies the reader’s irrevocable acceptance of this disclaimer. No part of this blog can be reproduced by any means and under any circumstances, whatsoever, in whole or in part, without proper attribution or the consent of the copyright and trademark holders of this website.Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that information herewithin has been received from sources believed to be reliable and such information is believed to be accurate at the time of publishing, no warranties or assurances whatsoever are made in reference to accuracy or completeness of said information, and no liability whatsoever will be accepted for taking or failing to take any action upon any information contained in any part of this website.  Thank you for the consideration.

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A Sale & Purchase Market in Shipping that Was … or, It Wasn’t It, in 2017

2017 was a fairly good year for the drybulk market. As compared to 2016, truth being told, 2017 was an exceptional year. All segments of the drybulk market have moved from severely depressed levels (with a meaningful part of the world fleet idle then) to profitable levels; at some point in early 2016, it seems that all types of drybulk vessels, irrespective of size and segment, were earning $4,000 per diem, if they managed to find employment at all. By comparison, in November 2017, capesize vessels most noticeably were etching earnings close to $30,000 pd.

And, looking forward, the prospects for 2018 seem at least fair for the drybulk market, while tankers and containerships hold hope. Shipping is far from showing a full recovery from the crisis, but at present the market seems optimistic, especially when one considers the abysmal days of the market bottom in March 2016.

Drybulk freight indices in 2017, provided by the Baltic Exchange

2017 has been a fairly decent market for the sale and purchase (S&P) of shipping assets. Vessels were bought and sold, but mainly they were bought, at a livelier pace than in 2015 or 2016; overall, S&P activity has been higher by 34% in 2017 for the drybulk market than the previous two years, a welcome development for S&P brokers. And, most of the vessels were bought in expectations of a recovering market instead of getting sold as in the past in a bloodbath of a market at auctions and other forced sale scenarios.

With increasing volume for S&P in an improving freight market, one would be forgiven to assume that shipping assets prices were on a roll in 2017. It’s true that vessels’ values for dry bulk have improved, driven by an improving freight market and good prospects for the immediate and near future; however, asset pricing was nowhere close to match the freight market’s buoyancy. Freight rates increased by a multifold factor, while asset prices dragged along. As per the attached graph, prices of asset classes tracked by the Baltic Exchange under their Baltic Exchange S&P Assessment Index (BSPA) for five-year old vessels, both tankers and bulkers, have been steady. [Karatzas Marine Advisors is an active member of The Baltic Exchange]. For tankers, prices have shown in 2017 as much liveliness as if trading in a sea of tranquility – exhibiting almost prefect flat lines. For bulkers, there has been a relatively mild improvement in the spring of 2017, but flat lines that resemble tanker prices followed. Still, year-over-year, there is a 25% increase for capesize vessels and milder improvements for other types of dry bulk vessels. Again, these are data for five-year old vessels, and older vessels performed better and newer vessels performed a bit worse than five-year old vessels; and again, these are asset price increases in 2017 alone, not from the bottom of the market in 2016 – where price improvements have been more significant. But again, and without wishing to burst anyone’s bubble, the Standard & Poor’s (S&P 500) index in the USA achieved almost a 20% performance in 2017, and this with all the benefits of a liquid investment.

Shipping asset prices in 2017 and the Baltic Sale & Purchase Assessment Index (BSPA), provided by The Baltic Exchange

Asset prices in 2017 have been un-inspiring for all types of vessels, including drybulk, tankers and containerships. We have written in a different post about the sale & purchase market and asset playing as a business idea that seems that it lost its luster. Hopefully there are much better days in shipping and we are in the early stages of a lengthy and strong recovery; and, likely those who bought ships in 2017 and 2016 will get to enjoy much stronger markets and asset prices.

Our skepticism on the subdued state of the sale & purchase market and its impact on the asset play theme is that they may be early signs that the shipping industry is facing structural changes while we all celebrate the strength of the freight market recovery. It would appear that with the lack of plentiful and cheap debt financing, flipping shipping assets is not as appealing any more. More of one’s money has to be committed to the “bet”, which is makes it costlier to buy ships and play and game. And, more importantly, lack of availability of cheap money for other buyers makes it harder for other people (and potential buyers) of one’s assets to get optimistic and bid up asset prices and pay you a strong price to buy your assets. Or, it may be that shipping is finding its calling that it is actually for transporting goods and being part of the logistics chain and not a speculative instrument for buying and selling ships and stretching one’s fleet like an accordion and being highly opportunistic with the market and business relations.

Even more concerning that the lack of shipping finance prospect affecting asset prices is that the freight market recovery may not considered to be real and sustainable by the “smart money”. Even shipowners with access to cash, few reference names have made substantial purchases in 2017, a few individual acquisitions notwithstanding. Shipowners who in previous down-cycles were loading up on cheap tonnage, it seems this time around have gone on a buyer’s strike. It’s interesting seeing who’s doing the buying and who is doing the preaching, and who’s buying with their own money and who is buying with other people’s money. As another of Yogi Berra’s pith quotations has it, “you can observe a lot by just watching”. And who has been doing the buying in the S&P market in 2017 is not strongly convincing.

There have been reports elsewhere that Greeks and Americans have been the highest buyers of ships in 2017, and the geography of these two countries may indicate trends in the market, at least in the short term and at least for 2017. Access to shipping expertise and access to capital have always been two competitive advantages to have in shipping. Hopefully the trend will continue as our firm has intimate access to both of these markets.

We only hope that 2018 will be a better and more active year for S&P that 2017 has been, and we wish that much more money stands to be made in the new year. Having been very active in 2017 ourselves, we only hope that any S&P activity and asset appreciation is based on fundamentals and not on speculation, and any signs of concern mentioned above remain just that!

Happy New Year!

The hope of the new day and the dangerous of the treacherous seas… Bass Harbor Light, in Mount Desert Island, Maine, USA. Image credit: Karatzas Images

© 2013 – present Basil M Karatzas & Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co.  All Rights Reserved.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:  Access to this blog signifies the reader’s irrevocable acceptance of this disclaimer. No part of this blog can be reproduced by any means and under any circumstances, whatsoever, in whole or in part, without proper attribution or the consent of the copyright and trademark holders of this website.Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that information herewithin has been received from sources believed to be reliable and such information is believed to be accurate at the time of publishing, no warranties or assurances whatsoever are made in reference to accuracy or completeness of said information, and no liability whatsoever will be accepted for taking or failing to take any action upon any information contained in any part of this website.  Thank you for the consideration.

‘Shipshape 10’ News for Week Ending July 16th, 2017

‘Shipshape 10 List’, a list of news and articles published in the current week that a senior executive in shipping, shipping finance, commodities, energy, supply chain and infrastructure should had noticed; news and articles that are shaping the agenda and the course of the maritime industry.

Sometimes seemingly tangential, periodically humorous, occasionally sarcastic, sporadically artistic, inferentially erotic, but always insightful and topical.

We apologize for the absence of an update for almost a month to those who have found this blog worthwhile to subscribe to and follow it regularly.

And, this week’s ‘Shipshape 10’:

On the Cosco and OOCL transaction:
1a. China underlines shipping ambitions with $6.3bn takeover of HK group (from the Financial Times) – article quoting Basil M Karatzas

1b. China’s Cosco to Buy Shipping Rival Orient Overseas for $6.3 Billion (from The Wall Street Journal) – article quoting Basil M Karatzas

1c. Cosco Takes OOCL, Eyes CMA CGM (from Splash 24/7)

1d. As Trade Revives, Big China Shippers Merge (from Barron’s)

1e. Karma and Comfort for Orient Overseas (from Bloomberg)

1f. Not Keeping It in the Family (from Week in China)

Dryships once again on front page news:
2. A Shipping Company’s Bizarre Stock Maneuvers Create High Seas Intrigue (from the Wall Street Journal)

Brazilian shipbuilding:
3. In Lula’s Shadow, Brazil’s Shipbuilders Struggle to Right Themselves (from The New York Times)

A UK shipyard is looking far away from traditional lines of business:
4. Mersey shipyard Cammell Laird set to build UK polar research ship (from the Financial Times)

New trading patterns due to expanded Panama Canal become more apparent with time:
5. Panama Canal Does Some Good While Upending Historic Trade Routes (from Bloomberg)

US crude oil exports:
6. US crude exports forecast to exceed most Opec members by 2020 (from the Financial Times)

Wheat trade and possible impact on the dry bulk market:
7. Traders Gobble Up Wheat Amid Great Plains Drought (from The Wall Street Journal)

Opinion article in Splash 24/7 by yours truly on whether there is still time for the famous ‘asset play game’ in shipping
8. The Asset Appreciation Play Has Yet to Leave Port (Basil M Karatzas, from Splash 24/7)

Opinion article by yours truly in Splash 24/7 on shipping finance:
9. Credit is Due to Shipping (Basil M Karatzas, from Splash 24/7)

Summer is the perfect time to to take to the water, this time for pleasure:
10. 5 Summer Water Sports You Can Master the Easy Way (from The Wall Street Journal)

Panamax Containership MV ‘OOCL Montreal’ sailing upstream in Norderelbe, Hamburg. Image credit: Karatzas Images.

© 2013 – present Basil M Karatzas & Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co.  All Rights Reserved.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:  Access to this blog signifies the reader’s irrevocable acceptance of this disclaimer. No part of this blog can be reproduced by any means and under any circumstances, whatsoever, in whole or in part, without proper attribution or the consent of the copyright and trademark holders of this website.Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that information herewithin has been received from sources believed to be reliable and such information is believed to be accurate at the time of publishing, no warranties or assurances whatsoever are made in reference to accuracy or completeness of said information, and no liability whatsoever will be accepted for taking or failing to take any action upon any information contained in any part of this website.  Thank you for the consideration.