ECONOMY

London Stock Exchange no match for Nasdaq in attracting shipping firms

Recent developments have put an end to the hopes of those who expected that the London Stock Exchange (LSE) would be able to rival New York’s Nasdaq index in attracting shipping companies. A few weeks ago, a series of positive signs had actually given London the chance to become a European match for the Nasdaq, as Greek shipping company Goldenport Holdings filed an application to be listed on the LSE. As the industry publication TradeWinds previously noted, was this listing to prove successful many more would not hesitate to follow suit, particularly from the Greek shipping community. In practice, however, it was proven that institutional investors in Europe are not yet ready to place their capital in shipping. Goldenport Holdings, which belongs to the Dragnis family, has not managed to gather the interest expected, and has opted not to proceed with its public listing. After all, its share price came to levels that were far below those anticipated. This development surprised certain analysts who had thought the climate had now changed and that London could again become the «steam engine» of international shipping. Goldenport itself cited three reasons why it had chosen London instead of New York: It was recommended by investment banks, such as HSBC; the firm’s management was more familiar with London due to its proximity (it is based in Athens), and London remains one of the most important centers of the global shipping community, with a multitude of ship-brokerage agencies. Many people were optimistic about the potential of the LSE to attract shipping companies, as they believed there was no particular reason for the US market to head the world’s stock and bond markets. Sure, some of the biggest institutional investors are based in the USA, but this does not mean that Europe is deprived of investment funds. For instance, pension funds have in recent years developed strong outward-looking activity, placing capital in many EU countries (mainly in stocks, bonds and properties), not to mention the various investment funds, such as hedge funds. Nevertheless, from the start of the year only the eight Greek shipping companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange have drawn more than $1.5 billion. Additionally, the recent attempt by more and more shipping companies (including several Greek ones) to enter the Nasdaq market has created a feeling of saturation among investors on the other side of the Atlantic, leading many companies to postpone or cancel their plans due to low interest by investors. The most recent Greek «victims» were Golden Energy (of the Restis group) and Capital Maritime. All this meant that conditions for the rise of the LSE were ideal, especially since a new market was set up, the Alternative Investment Market (AIM), aimed at attracting smaller shipping companies. This temporarily appeared successful as it offers advantages such as laxer regulations, no obligation for companies to present their activity for three consecutive years and lower public listing costs. Certainly after the failure of Goldenport, any theoretical interest reportedly expressed by Greek shipping companies is now history. London is a stock market where, with the exceptions of P&O of the James Fischer group (with interests in other markets besides shipping) and the small Go Carriers, no other shipping company is listed, so Goldenport would have been a pioneer. The paradox in Goldenport’s case is that even up to the very last minute and after some 150 presentations to investors and analysts in England, Scotland, France and Germany, the messages for the company’s listing were especially positive. According to analysts, what seems to have turned investors away was the company’s attempt to list two aspects of its activity, combining its bulker fleet with that of container ships. This element has apparently caused confusion, as has been noted in New York with similar efforts by other companies. Another problem was the average vessel age (23 years), yet there were also many positive features, like the owners’ commitment it would not sell shares until after nine months of its stock’s trading, its successful and profitable activity and its moderate attitude, since it was only asking for no more than 80 million pounds for the renewal of its fleet.