Hanjin Shipping in Receivership

On August 31st, 2016, Hanjin Shipping filed a receivership petition with Seoul’s Central District Court, and on September 6th, for Chapter 15 protection at US Federal Bankruptcy Court in Newark, NJ. Filings in approximately 45 jurisdictions worldwide, where Hanjin vessels trade, are expected to be filed in the very near term.

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Containership MV ‘Hanjin Monaco’ against the downtown Manhattan skyline in better days. Image credit: Karatzas Images.

With approximately 140 vessels under management, only 40 of which are self-owned and 100 chartered-in or leased, there have been serious implications for the market, at least in the short term. With only US$ 700 mil in equity, US$ 1.7 billion value of its fleet and $5.4 billion in outstanding obligations, the capital structure resembles a house of cards. The value of the cargo on-board of Hanjin’s vessels at the time of filing for receivership was estimated at $14.5 billion. The ensuing result has been a logistical nightmare, given all such cargo had contractual obligations to be delivered on time, but Hanjin’s vendors would not render any services unless they were getting paid in advance. Receivership and Chapter 15 can stop creditors from knocking on the door, but vendors would now perform only on cash basis payments. Hanjin’s financial nightmare has been compounded by the legal complexity of the business which is further compounded by the logistical complexity of the containership liner business. Only the fact that the containership market has appr. 25% capacity (which has caused Hanjin’s financial troubles in the first place) can alleviate concerns that Hanjin’s potential demise will no be a threat to the supply chain and international trade.

Hanjin’s filing has been front page news for the whole last week. Here’s a list of articles in the print, TV and radio coverage where Basil M Karatzas and Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co were quoted:

Moral Hazard Case Study: Hanjin Shipping                                                          Maritime Executive, September 6th 2016

Containers Stranded at Sea After South Korean Company Goes Bankrupt         NPR, All Things Considered, September 8th, 2016                                                    To Listen to the Audio Clip, Please Click here!  

Retailers Seek U.S Help With Shipping Crisis                                                            The Wall Street Journal, September 1st, 2016

Hanjin Shipping Bankruptcy Unlikely to Ease Gluts of Vessels                                    The Wall Street Journal, September 2nd, 2016

Shipping Chaos                                                                                                              The Exchange CBC News Canadian Broadcasting Corporation                                TV Interview, September 2nd, 2016

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Basil Karatzas on CBC News – The Exchange about Hanjin Shipping’s Receivership. Image credit: CBC

© 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 here within 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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The chronically weak freight market and moral hazard

Low freight rates have been a concern for a great number of reasons and to a wide range of market participants: low freight rates entail weak cash flows for the shipowners who cannot perform on their loans and causing problems for the shipping lenders; investors in shipping having experienced poor returns on their investments contemplating asset sales and leading even lower asset prices; shipbuilders facing a great deal of slippage and defaults on existing newbuilding orders while demand for additional orders has vaporized; charterers and cargo owners have to be very careful that vessels chartered even in the spot market not only are seaworthy and commercially competitive, but also the shipowner is current with their financial obligations and there is no risk of seeing the vessel delayed or arrested and the cargo onboard not delivered on time; likewise, vendors to the shipping industry have to be experts with managing credit risk and keep their clients on a short leash (further curtailing market activity and their own business).

All the concerns mentioned above emanate from a single cause, a low freight market that radiates and affects every dimension of the shipping market. Despite the recent bounce in the dry bulk market, freight rates are still very low and at barely operating break-even levels. The freight markets have been too low and for too long, and shipowners, still in business, have had to dip deeply into their cash reserves or seen their equity overly diluted. There is little more aside in terms of cash reserves, funding from investors and financiers outside the industry, or for that matter, of patience.

Based on recent transactions and experience, now another concern has to be added to the long list springing from a weak freight market: moral hazard. Moral hazard in this case can be defined as the behavior where an owner is so much disengaged from reality as to act carelessly in reference to the asset and the parties with an interest in the asset. The most obvious example is when the owner’ economic interest in the asset is so minuscule that there is precious little to care about the asset.

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Neo-panamax containership MV ‘Hanjin Namu’ entering the Port of Piraeus in better days. Image credit: Karatzas Images

There has been moral hazard in reference to financing and outstanding shipping loans. When the principal amount of the ship mortgage is materially higher than the present value of the vessel (and any hope of market recovery thereof), the shipowner has little incentive to make any effort to fulfill their obligations according to the loan agreement. There is very little hope that they will ever see their money back and thus little incentive to behave. Several owners we know had been making good, more or less, on their loans for the last couple of years in the hope of a market recovery. Two years later, having thrown good money after bad money, and reaching the bottom of their cash reserve piles, now they are barely inclined to keep performing. There have been cases of shipowners who have stopped paying interest and principal of their loans despite having the financial capacity to do so. They are better off with shipping loans in default than with performing loans. First, they reserve capital, which they can deploy to new clean-slate shipping investments and let the legacy transactions sink. Second, for loans in default, shipping banks seem keener to grand concessions to shipowners with non-performing loans while they seem to uphold ‘good’ shipowners at a much higher standard. Thus, it pays to be bad. Thirdly, there had been traditionally an unspoken law in shipping that for a borrower defaulting to a shipping bank, effectively they were ostracized for life by the ship banking community, thus a very high incentive to behave: not to borrow more than one could afford, and, even when things turned sour, to make every effort to see the lender to recover as much as possible of the principal outstanding. Now with several executives at shipping banks being corporate officers with little knowledge of or affection for shipping or with a great deal of shipping banks actively exiting shipping, there is no longer the self-watching ship banking community to ensure proper borrower behavior and thus, plenty of room for moral hazard. Sort of, ‘what they can do to me?’

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Image credit: Karatzas Images

There has been moral hazard in reference to the maintenance of the vessels as well. When the freight market is low, economizing by cutting on expenses is required to make do with less and ensure survival in a challenging market. First goes the ‘fat’ and then ‘discretionary spending’ (spare parts onboard the vessel is the classic case) and then laying off people ashore, and then keeping vessel maintenance only to the extent that the classification society requires in order to renew the certificates. Talking to inspectors boarding vessels on behalf of charterers, the technical quality of the vessels has become a concern; and, this concern is highly troubling for tankers and for oil companies given the level of liability in the event of an accident involving pollution. Talking to inspectors boarding vessels on behalf of the port state control (such as the US Coast Guard), there is real concern about vessels that have been under-maintained. Talking to inspectors boarding vessels on behalf of buyers of ships in the secondary market, there is lots of concern about vessels that have been neglected for too long. With the freight market too weak for too long and with many vessels afloat ‘depending on the kindness of strangers’, there is little incentive to do anything above the absolutely minimum required in terms of maintenance.

There has been moral hazard in reference to seafarers and the environment as well. There have been several stories recently in the trade press about seafarers getting abandoned, gone unpaid for months and malnourished, and even stories of vessels arrested due to outstanding crew wages. And, in a market place where the shipowner does not care much about the asset or the lender or the crew, it’s hard to envision how or why they would care much about anything else, such as the environment or adhering to sound navigational practices. Such is the risk of moral hazard.

There is no doubt that we are living through unique times in shipping; the present shipping crisis has been much more monstrous than others in the past. Examples of moral hazard is a known consequence of rapidly shifting economic structures and defaults (think of moral hazard in the subprime real estate in the US a few years ago). However, given that there is low expectation of a market recovery in the near future, issues arising from moral hazard will only get more complicated and perilous. After all, moral hazard in shipping can affect trade, human lives and the environment. When contemplating actions in shipping at present, one has to be cognizant of addressing alignment of interests and dissipation of moral hazard.

There is an anecdote of Shipowner A confiding to their friend, Shipowner B, that Shipping Bank X arrested four of their vessels. ‘Oh dear,’ replies Shipowner B, ‘I am so sorry to hear. And now, who is your best banking relationship?’ he asks, to which, Shipowner A dryly replies with relief: ‘I think I already told you, Bank X’!

As funny as the joke is, a market cannot function on such a basis.


The above article was originally published on The Maritime Executive website on August 30th, 2016, under the title: “Shipping’s Moral Hazard”. We are thankful to the Editors of The Maritime Executive for hosting our article.


bmti-1An abbreviated version of the article suitable for the weekly market report was published on September 2, 2016 by BMTI in Germany, under the title: “Concerns About Moral Hazard in the Shipping Industry”. We are thankful to our friends at BMTI (a well respected dry bulk market data provider, with special focus on smaller tonnages and MPP vessels, and the short sea market) for hosting our article. For more info on BMTI and their services please click on the image of their homepage to the right!


© 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 here within 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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Shipping is Sailing Against Trade Winds, and Other Protectionist Concerns

With the dry bulk freight market limited to bouncing along the bottom for now, most of the resources – when not afforded for ships to (figuratively) stay afloat – are devoted at buying dry bulk vessels at cheap prices in the secondary market. It seems that everyone is convinced that asset prices at present offer a unique investment opportunity not to be passed up. After all, freight market weaknesses come and go, but markets of cheap ships do not present themselves often.

The weakness of the shipping markets is mostly attributable to tonnage oversupply, whereby there are just too many vessels chasing few cargoes. In general, demand for vessels – that is trade and cargoes to be transported – is only un-inspiring at present. The main concern is that there are many more ships than cargoes, but trade is still existent, just not robust enough to employ all available vessels. Too many vessels were built because of too much speculative investment in shipping, and also because of too much available liquidity and that, at a very low cost.

Most potential buyers of ships believe that there will be tonnage equilibrium as soon as older vessels and less efficient vessels find their way to the scrapheap. Thus, effectively, it’s a matter of timing and awaiting for the immutable laws of nature to work their unique rejuvenation of the markets by way of aging. After all, it often has worked out just like this in previous business cycles in shipping. It’s true, newbuilding orders have diminished in the last year while scrapping has been as strong as it has been in the last seven years; thus, tonnage supply is coming down, and that’s easy to verify in most cases.

Demand for shipping is a much more convoluted analysis since there are too many commodities and cargoes and trading patterns, and permutations thereof, to analyze. Then, one has also to take into calculation macroeconomic factors, political events, possibly technological developments, changing consumption patterns, trade barriers, etc, and all of them, to varying degrees of seriousness, affect demand for shipping. Quite frankly, often analyzing demand for cargoes (and shipping) in detail resembles the so-called the Butterfly Effect model.

Trying to view demand for shipping from 10,000 feet, one has to identify the long-term trends and ideally be on the ‘right side’ of those trends. As a rule of thumb, growth for international trade is twice as much as economic growth (GDP), as commodities, raw materials and finished products have to pass international borders often to reach the end consumer as the economies grow. Further, growth for international trade declines much faster than economic growth in decelerating economies, while growth for international trade increases much faster when economies grow. It’s intuitive, as, when an economy is slowing down, need for trade comes down fast, while as an economy starts growing again, there is fast demand for trade for products to be brought together and reach the end consumer. The fact that the IMF and OECD keep revising downwards world economic growth has not escaped the shipping markets that have been trading at almost all time lows.

While we all hope that there will be robust economic growth soon enough to save shipping, one has also to pay attention to the fact that international trade thrives when there is a receptive ground and open-minded trading partners. And, international trade, much glamorized by free-market economists, demonstrably has been exerting a positive outcome on our societies. But often, international trade has to get clearance by politicians, and from their voters. International trade agreements can formalize trading relationships among geographic regions or bloc of countries, and make trade easier to happen. While the World Trade Organization (WTO) is the large overreaching umbrella for trade worldwide, trade agreements can be negotiated at local levels by countries or group of countries. The EU started as a quasi-trade agreement and has evolved into a political union (its end results to be seen, however), while most readers in the US can recall NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, between Mexico, USA and Canada, and its eventful passing despite the ‘giant sucking sound’ warnings of jobs lost to the south borders of the NAFTA countries.

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Shipping keeps an eye on trade patterns

On a macro-level, one today has to notice a wave at the international level whereby voters have been turning much more ‘isolationistic, nationalistic and ethnocentristic’ and against (free?) movement of people and cargoes. For instance, just recently British voters opted for Brexit, which, while driven by desire against free movement of citizens within the EU, eventually will have to have implications on movement of goods, if and when Brexit gets to be implemented. Most definitely this is not a positive development for trade and for the shipping industry, especially given the fact that Great Britain has historically been a beacon for openness and trade, being an island nation with long tradition in and institutions for maritime and trade. Moving on to the Continental Europe, there have been reports that in the State of Bavaria in Germany there is very strong anti-trade sentiment against CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, between the 28-nation EU and Canada, finalized in 2014. And, in the USA, while the Obama administration has spared no efforts to fast track the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), both presidential candidates – including his presumptive legacy preservationist Hillary Clinton – have come against the trade agreement. One cannot be sure of the outcome for these trade agreements, especially since they seem to be driven by voter angst against migrants from poor regions and/or possibly terrorist risk underlining, but the writing on the wall is clear that free trade is a ‘zero sum game’. Irrespective of one’s political or philosophical inclinations, trade and shipping will have to face some headwinds, at least in the short term.

Intra-region free trade agreements (FTA) such as ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations), RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership), MERCOSUR and UNASUR in South America seem to be faring better, but these being localized agreements, their big impact on global trade (and shipping) is rather limited.

If there was ever any doubt on the beneficial impact of trade to shipping, in the following graph we present trade data from the WTO website, for total world exports and for exports from the USA and China starting in 1980 (in 2015 US$ value). China became formally member of the WTO at the end of 2001, and it’s apparent that trading values have increased for the world, USA and China since 2001. Of course, increased growth in trade since 2001 cannot totally be attributed to China’s ascension to WTO, but there is no doubt that China has been the primary driver. On the same graph, on the right scale in red, the annual averages for the Baltic dry bulk market (BIFFEX and BDI) are shown, and it’s clear that since 2001, the BDI had been trading – for most of the time – at a different plateau altogether.

Trade and BDI since 1980 (large)

‘One great wowing sound’ for shipping following China’s acceptance to WTO.

There is no dispute that shipping asset prices present great investment opportunities and that eventually enough ships will be scrapped to reach equilibrium with demand. On the other hand, the demand side of the equation has to be given proper consideration, in the light of present anti-trade sentiment in mostly the western world.

And, as a disclaimer, trade and trade agreements in this article are being viewed strictly from the point of view of a shipping man without imparting any political judgment or inclination, but bearing the strong belief that all trade is good for consumers and citizens and the society and culture, not to mention good for shipping, too.

Trade is not a zero sum game.


This article was first published on Splash24/7 under the title ‘Where’s the Growth in Trade?’ on August 8th, 2016. On August 14th, 2016, following A.P. Moeller’s quarterly report, Bloomberg published an article titled World’s Biggest Shipping Firm Warns Against U.S. Protectionism’.


© 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 here within 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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Shipping Finance Elements and Concepts

Following Presentations on Shipping Financing have been found on the internet. They are reproduced here as a matter of convenience for readers interested in the subject of how ships have been financed under different structures and different business models, at present and over time.

MV NEPTUNE THALASSA 13 BMK_5610 @There is debt (senior or first preferred ship mortgage, second lien, junior loans) and equity (owners’ equity or sweat equity, friends-and-family money) for the archetypal structure available to independent (individual) shipowner. Shipping banks over time had been the prime financiers of the shipping industry mostly in  the form of asset-backed financing (mortgage). There is leasing whether operating or financial leases, sale and leaseback, or uniquely structured Japanese Operating Leases (JOL), and financing earned via long-term charters (time charters and long-term bareboat demise charters). Independent shipowners have been dealing with shipping banks and often financed vessels via project finance, and when circumstances fertile, dealt with private equity as well. For owners who sought public equity and underwent an IPO process, the capital markets for equities and for bond (shipping bonds) have offered more alternatives. Shipping finance has been experiencing tectonic changes since 2008 and has moved from relatively self-explanatory terms of vessel valuations and Loan-to-Value (LTV) to terminology to accommodate Basel III with its Tier 1 Capital (CET1) to Risk-Weighted Assets (RAW) and the Capital Adequacy Ratio.

Copyright to the presentations and articles listed herebelow belongs to their perspective owners, and hereby duly acknowledged. Presentations have been found posted freely on the world wide web, and reproduced here as a matter of convenience.


Elements of Ship Finance
Zan Yang and Jian Chen
Department of management, Dalian Maritime University                                                  Last accessed on the internet on July 26, 2016.                              http://www.paper.edu.cn/scholar/downpaper/yangzan-2.html


Risk vs Return for Lenders and the Economics for Borrowers
by R. Philip Bailey, June 2015
Last accessed on the internet on July 26, 2016.

By Allan D. Reiss, Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, 2014

Last accessed on the internet on July 26, 2016.

Deloitte, 2011
Last accessed on the internet on July 26, 2016.

Irish Maritime Development Office, 2015
Last accessed on the internet on July 26, 2016.

Shipping Finance: A New Model for a New Market                                                  Citi, 2015                                                                                                                       Last accessed on the internet on July 26, 2016.                                    https://www.citibank.com/tts/trade_finance/financing/docs/citi_ss_v2.pdf


The Impact of the Basel III Capital Accord of Asset Finance
by Angelo L Rosa, 2012
Last accessed on the internet on July 26, 2016.

by Basil M Karatzas, 2010
Journal of Equipment Lease Finance
Last accessed on the internet on July 26, 2016.

Dissertation by Alex Orfanidis, 20014
Last accessed on the internet on July 26, 2016.

Ariff Kamarudin, 2012
Lehigh University
Last accessed on the internet on July 26, 2016.

© 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 here within 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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The International Handbook of Shipping Finance

We are excited about the autumn publication of the new, authoritative handbook on shipping finance, The International Handbook of Shipping Finance, edited by Professors Manolis G. Kavussanos & Ilias D. Visvikis, and written by a series of authors with outstanding careers at the frontlines of the maritime industry and shipping finance.

Shipping Finance is a unique segment of finance in practice, given the special nature of the field, at the interface of the maritime industry, the finance and banking industry, and trade, fiscal and monetary policies. Shipping is a capital intense industry, and successful shipowners are often defined by their access to competitively priced cost of capital, and likely, the more plentiful and cheaper the capital, the great the success story – as long as risk management practices are grounded to industry fundamentals and accommodate the well-documented high volatility nature through the business cycles. Financial leverage, and financing in shipping, can be achieved in several forms from plain financial leases to operational leases to structured financing to asset backed lending, via export credit and project finance, through the capital and public markets. Shipping finance had traditionally been obtained based on the quality of the collateral (asset backed financing and first preferred ship mortgages), but both the banking-crisis-post-2008 and the evolvement of the maritime markets have necessitated a deeper understanding of the field. Expertise in the shipping markets (operating and managing ships) now has to be tantamount to the expertise of mastering and optimizing financial performance.

In our daily way of business, we are often approached by young people or new investors  and financiers to shipping asking “Where we can learn more about shipping finance”. Besides recommending (of course!) following our blog (Shipping Finance by Karatzas Marine), we can now heartily recommend The International Handbook of Shipping Finance, as a first port call for someone to get a ground foundation of the maritime industry and shipping finance. Written by practitioners in the field, the book offers more than just academic theory as it delves into the detail of ‘how actually is done’. Masterly edited by well-known Professors of shipping finance, Professors Manolis G. Kavussanos (presently Professor at Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB) & Ilias D. Visvikis (presently Professor at the World Maritime University (WMU) in Malmö, Sweden), this handbook of shipping finance will serve well future generations of students, new investors, but mostly, we want to think, existing shipowners who now, with many shipping banks closed, will feel the need to getting a deeper understanding of shipping finance.

Basil M Karatzas and Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co have been honored to have been invited to contribute a chapter for The International Handbook of Shipping Finance, on the subject of shipping bonds: ‘Public Debt Markets for Shipping’, Chapter 6 of the book.

On a sampling basis, additional contributors to the book are (in alphabetical order): Stefan Albertijn, with HAMANT Beratungs-und Investitions GmbH, Dimitris Anagnostoulos with Aegean Baltic Bank (ABB), Henriette Brent Petersen with DVB Bank SE, Wolfgang Drobetz with the University of Hamburg, Fotis Giannakoulis of Morgan Stanley, Jan-Henrik Huebner with DNV GL, George Paleokrassas with Watson Farley & Williams, Jeffrey Pribor, with Jefferies LLC, and Manish Singh with V.Group Limited.


The International Handbook of Shipping Finance is a one-stop resource, offering comprehensive reference to theory and practice in the area of shipping finance. In the multi-billion dollar international shipping industry, it is important to understand the various issues involved in the finance of the sector. This involves the identification and evaluation of the alternative sources of capital available for financing the ships, including the appraisal and budgeting of shipping investment projects; legal and insurance aspects of ship finance; the financial analysis and modelling of investment projects; mergers and acquisitions; and the commercial and market risk management issues involved.

Technical where appropriate, but grounded in market reality, this is a “must-have” reference for anyone involved in shipping finance, from bank practitioners and commodity trading houses, to ship-brokers, lawyers and insurance houses as well as to university students studying shipping finance.

Flyer - The International Handbook of Shipping Finance JUL2016_Page_1

The International Handbook of Shipping Finance. An exciting book to read in a swiftly changing shipping finance environment!

THE INTERNATIONAL HANDBOOK OF SHIPPING FINANCE
Edited by Professors Manolis G. Kavussanos & Ilias D. Visvikis

Flyer – The International Handbook of Shipping Finance JUL2016


© 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 here within 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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Shipping’s Structural Challenges

Article originally appeared on Splash 24/7 under the title ‘Canaries in a Coalmine’ on July 5th, 2016.


With the dry bulk freight market so low for so long, half of world’s dry bulk shipowners are trying to raise money in order to survive and the other half are trying to raise money in order to buy cheap ships. Both kinds of endeavors are commendable and that’s exactly the activity this market one would had expected to stimulate at this stage: a historically depressed and unexpectedly prolonged low market is about to wash out part of the ship ownership population while the better (and maybe luckier) part is using this market to grow and increase market share.

Historically, great fortunes were made for a propitious entry to the market and astute timing in this volatile industry. As some trading minds love to say, one makes their money when they buy: a hopelessly low price gives enough room for error for any miscalculations and takes much of the market uncertainty out of the investment.   To a certain extent, aspiring buyers at presently distressed prices are trying to do what always has been done in such circumstances, buy low and wait to sell high. So far, so good – as no one lost money with this investment strategy.

Stained Glass_Jesus & Disciples in boat_Singapore_DSCN9558 @

An industry in a storm. Image credit: Karatzas Images.

However, buying low and selling high presupposes a normal business cycle, sort of a wheel of a bicycle rotating while the bicycle speeds on an even surface; just imagine, if you will, a leaf picked by the wheel from the road surface, span a bit, and let go when the wheel has turned half circle; the leaf is now at middle air, diametrically higher than the surface, thus with more energy (read value), as we would had said in elementary physics class. Actually, at any point higher than the surface, the leaf would have more energy (value), and that’s what many asset players have been trying to do over time. Visualize the bicycle wheel as a business cycle and substitute the road surface with the horizon over the oceans: the value of the ships varies relative to the position of the wheel over time.

A buy-low-sell-high investment argument presupposes of a normal, repeatable business cycle, immune to any exogenous shocks. Same wheel, more or less, over cycles, same level surface more or less, same enthusiasm and strength to pedal the wheel, more or less…

When today one makes the argument for buying cheap ships, as commendable and self-evident as such argument may be, one has to wonder whether everything else has remained the same… whether the surface is still even…

Protectionism and Isolationism

A thriving shipping industry depends on thriving trade, and one has to observe that at present there is a wave of protectionism and isolationism circling the globe. From the outcome of Brexit to supposedly building huge walls in North America to the polarization of the electorates in many countries, one has to wonder whether there is a tailwind or a headwind for shipping. Probably our lives and the world are too integrated at this stage and populist politicians may not get their chance to implement their simplistic and populist view of the world, but again, a big push for the shipping industry should not be expected in the immediate future.

Structural Changes and Disruption Risk

There have been interesting news recently as officials at the Port of Oakland in California are trying to do away with a ban to ship coal (mostly from Utah) to Asia (China), a proposal based on environmental concerns. This is about banning shipping for a commodity by a third party who effectively is not a party to a contract (between buyer and seller or even shipper of coal) on reasons of environmental pollution that will take place thousand miles away (in China, as Oakland is only transshipment center). We do not pass judgment here, and we are always for clean business practices, but see this event as a canary in the coal mine, literally, drawing attention to shifting tides in the shipping industry. Certain cargoes, coal in this case, are becoming obsolete as the world moves towards renewables and clean energy. Shipping volumes are affected and certain asset classes get to be at a greater disadvantage. And, the energy industry and energy storage are at the crosshair of many technology companies as the energy industry is deemed a mature target for disruption. The mighty Apple depends 93% for its energy needs on renewables, and has spent for R&D on renewables more money that they have spent on the iPhone, iPad and iWatch combined. Coal and oil and gas are prime cargoes for the shipping industry.

Mind the Money

In June alone, more than $1 trillion of sovereign and corporate debt has been added to bonds yielding negative rate, for a total of $11.7 trillion. There are 355 corporate bonds that have negative yields, meaning that the bondholders actually pay money for the privilege to lend to these companies. In macro-economics, sovereign interest rates at close to zero are defined as Zero Lower Bound (ZLB), and it’s often a sign of central banks running out of options. We are living in a world of increased risk with few fiscal options (and / or political will) where cash holders and savers are getting penalized for being frugal, whereas some borrowers are getting paid to borrow lots of money. But, given heightened regulatory environment in the banking industry, a great deal of borrowers is not the kind of clients the banks wish to finance. In short, in a world flooded with free money, most businesses cannot access it. We would think that this is a structural shift in the market, when our proverbial bicycle has stopped moving on an even surface and has moved to off-road terrain.

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Looking for a Captain. Image credit: Karatzas Images.

Many hopeful buyers are pounding the table that shipping asset prices are cheap and this is one-in-lifetime opportunity. And over time, cheaply acquired assets appreciate and generate huge profits; just a uni-directional bet and a view that history repeats itself, actually. But, this has been the logic that got us into trouble in the first place: ships were priced at once-in-a-lifetime levels in 2012-2013 when primarily asset players and opportunistic investors were ordering newbuildings by the dozen. Why the same logic would get us out of trouble, especially when canaries in the coal mine seem to be dropping dead in related industries?

Probably a higher level of logic may be required to make profits and save the industry from another shock, than just the buy-low-now mentality.


© 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 here within 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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Karatzas Marine Presentation at 1st MareForum Shipping Conference, Panama City

Conference host and Market Research MareForum has hosted their 1st MareForum Shipping Conference in Panama City on June 24th, 2016, just two days before the official inauguration of the expanded Panama Canal. Basil M Karatzas has been honored to participate and present at the MareForum conference on shipping finance and the investment opportunities present in the industry, titled ‘An Anemic State of Shipping, A Plethora of Opportunities’. The presentation can  be accessed by clicking on the image of the Bridge of the Americas herebelow. Images from strolling Panama City and from the celebrations of the Panama Canal opening celebrations.

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Bridge of the Americas (Puente de las Americas) straddling the Panama Canal by Balboa and the entrance to the Pacific Ocean. Image credit: Karatzas Images.

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His Excellency, The President of the Republic of Panama Mr Juan Carlos Varela Rodríguez at the Presentation Oficial del Canal Ampliado (ATLAPA). Image credit: Karatzas Images

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His Excellency, The President of the Republic of Panama Mr Juan Carlos Varela Rodríguez with Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co CEO, Mr Basil M Karatzas. 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 here within 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.

Presentation_1st Panama MAREFORUM_Karatzas F JUN2016

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