ECONOMY

Greek shipowners turn to flotation to buy more vessels

A Change of course is in the wind for several large Greek shipping groups which are discussing their listing on international stock markets to fund future investments. Bloomberg news agency reports that three Greek companies have already started planning their stock market entry, in order to proceed to new ship purchases. These are First Financial Corp. and Golden Energy Management of the Restis group, and DryShips of Giorgos Economou. Notably, of the nearly 900 Greek shipping companies, no more than four are listed on an international stock market. The optimism of several Greek shipowners stems from their assessment that demand from China will continue to push rates higher despite the downward turn since last November. There is, after all, the positive example of Top Tankers, which in July 2004 made the most successful public listing in the history of the shipping sector. Including the share capital increase a bit later, the firm raised a total of $275 million from share sales through the Nasdaq index of the New York Stock Exchange. Using these funds, the company’s board aims to double its fleet, reaching 50 ships within a year, according to Evangelos Pistiolis, the youngest director of a Greek shipping company. Also positive was the New York listing of Excel Maritime Carriers Ltd in early December. The company is based in Bermuda but its administration is in Piraeus. Its CEO Christoforos Georgakis stated that it has raised $51.8 million selling 2.2 million shares. With this money, it has bought three dry bulk-carriers, to be delivered within this year. The Bloomberg Tanker Index recorded an 82 percent rise in 2004, finishing third among 480 sector indices of the news agency. Another indication of the popularity of shipping shares among international investors is the stock market course of listed Tsakos Energy Navigation (TEN) and Top Tankers: TEN’s shares (in New York and Oslo) rose by 94 percent, taking the company’s capitalization to $707 million. Similarly, Top Tankers’ shares gained 53 percent since July 22, when their trade began, increasing its capitalization to $430 million. With its existing stock market experience, the Restis group is preparing the listing of two of its subsidiaries, First Financial Corp. and Golden Energy Management. The former has a significant position in the dry-bulk market, after the buyout of the 32-ship fleet of Malaysian International Shipping Co., and now controls 63 vessels. Golden Energy Management, which manages the six tankers of the Restis group, will put its shares up for trading within the next six months, according to its director, Kyriakos Zarvanos. Another Greek company to list its shares on the New York Nasdaq index is DryShips, of the Drytank group. Details announced reveal that 7.1 million shares are scheduled for trading, ranging between $14 and $16 per share. The firm controls six vessels for shipping coal, iron ore and wheat, and plans the purchase of 11 new dry-bulkers for $299 million. All these moves illustrate a shift in mentality by a section of Greek shipowners, which until recently were against the public trading of their shares. A typical example was Anangel-American Shipholdings Ltd which was delisted from the Nasdaq index in 2002 when the Angelikousis family, which founded the company, bought all its shares.