ECONOMY

NYSE-listed Greek shipping firms lose ground in the first half of 2006

Most Greek shipping companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) suffered a blow to their profits in the year’s first half, with dry-cargo companies the worst hit. Optimism is returning, though, as the picture has started to change. There are a variety of reasons for this decline in earnings in H1, depending on the category and the specific company, as many listed firms were affected by the drop in chartering rates in their market, as well as the rise in ships’ operating costs as the price of fuel went up. Dry-bulk ship companies were the most hurt, seeing their market showing signs of decline. In the first quarter of the year in particular, rates fell to their lowest point in the last three years, continuing the falling course they had begun at the end of 2005. Another reason for decline was the docking of several ships for scheduled maintenance work. An exception to the rule was the Genco Shipping company of Petros Georgiopoulos, which raised its figures after managing to secure time-chartering rates at higher levels than the market’s average. Quintana Maritime has also posted very high growth but because it started operating in April 2005, its figures are not comparable. The company, which is based in Athens and run by Greeks though its main shareholders are foreign investment funds, has proceeded to one of the biggest transactions of the year, acquiring 17 dry-bulk ships from Metrostar of Theodoros Angelopoulos for $735 million. Nevertheless, the smile has returned to shipowners’ and shareholders’ faces, as dry-bulk freight rates began their rebound in mid-May and have followed a rising course throughout the summer. The tankers’ market has also seen a rebound since May due to the rise in oil prices, albeit with smaller fluctuations. According to recent statements by the CEO of Tsakos Energy Navigation (TEN), Nikos Tsakos, global oil demand will increase by 1.5 to 1.6 percent during 2006, which will become more evident in the last quarter of the year. Recent indications suggest that demand will grow further by 1.7 percent in 2007, largely because of countries such as China and India and regions such as North America. All these areas import oil and are far from the pumping points, increasing the need for transportation by sea. One of the outperformers in the first six months of 2006 was Stealth Gas of the Vafias family, which is only involved in the Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) market. Its earnings increased 160 percent, mainly due to fleet expansion: it has trebled in less than nine months. Today it controls 28 LPG ships.