ECONOMY

Listed Greek shipping companies continue vessel-shopping spree

Greek shipowners are continuing their investment activity this year at the same rate, as their presence on the acquisition list remains strong. However, unlike previous years, listed shipping companies – led by the New York-listed firms and those about to be listed – have high activity to show for 2005. Unofficial data by ship brokers from the start of the year until the end of October show some 1,150 ships have changed hands. About 20 percent of that, or 250 vessels, is estimated to have been acquired by Greek interests. Crucially, some 60 ships, or about 25 percent of Greek acquisitions, were made by listed or about-to-be-listed companies. The amount invested reaches up to $2.5 billion (according to estimates by the TradeWinds publication). The reasons for this are obvious: These companies draw capital from the stock markets in order to fund the purchase of ships and, to a lesser extent, to order new vessels – which, under the current conditions, goes against financial reason. This way, disposable cash is immediately used, directed toward acquiring used ships. A glance at the investment programs of companies expecting to be listed is enough to show that the main objective for managers is expanding their fleet. A case in point is Top Tankers, owned by Evangelos Pistiolis, which has acquired nine ships since the start of the year, bringing its fleet to 27 vessels. The company’s most recent move was the purchase of three Suezmax tankers from First Olsen for $180 million. Delivery is expected to be completed by the end of this week. Two months ago Top Tankers also acquired Minerva Symphony and Minerva Marine. Its investments from the beginning of 2005 are calculated at $457 million. Certainly, some of this has come from bank loans. Note here that the company’s board has postponed its expansion to the dry-bulk market, canceling in late May the acquisition deal for 15 bulk carriers from the Nomikos family. Dryships, owned by Giorgos Economou, has invested a similar amount – some $460 million – to buy nine bulk carrier ships. The company entered the Nasdaq stock market in New York in early 2005. Excel Maritime, one of the oldest Greek presences on the New York stock market, is said to have bought a total of 10 ships for $570 million. Quintana Maritime, owned by Stamatis Molaris and listed this fall, has bought all its 10-ship fleet this year, investing about $467 million. As shipbroking companies note, most of the capital raised this year has been channeled to bulk carrier ships, which is justified by the bigger emphasis placed on tankers in previous years. Listed companies may have been particularly active this year in expanding their fleet, but this has come at a price: All companies which acquired vessels due to their public listing had to face the automatic overvaluations of ships, paying amounts that were at least 5 percent higher because of that. For example, for a ship valued at $21.5 million its total cost could rise to $24.5 million through higher commissions and other factors if it is for a company preparing to enter a stock market. The great demand for bulk carrier ships has led the prices of used ones to high levels. This has rendered many Greek shipowners with ambitions to expand their fleets reluctantly, despite their increased liquidity thanks to high profits in the last couple of years. Nevertheless, many analysts do not rule out fresh moves in the short term, as the stocks of listed shipping companies have declined, while the supply of ships for sale is gradually increasing. Similarly, the tankers’ market prices remain high; there may be fewer candidate buyers, but many shipowners appear reluctant to sell.