Back in early 1999 the price of a 5 year old Panamax bulkcarrier dipped to $13.5m, and ever since analysts have hailed purchase decisions made at that time as some of the most lucrative shipping deals ever seen. Today, with the price back at $13m, perhaps it’s a good time to reflect on how successful investors were back in 1999 and whether there are similar opportunities once again.

What Was The Deal?

The graph shows for each year since 1990 the return that would have been generated by the purchase of a 5 year old Panamax bulkcarrier at the start of the year, the subsequent operation for ten years at the prevailing one year timecharter rate and then the sale of the unit at the end of that period as a 15 year old (for units purchased in 2007 and later, disposal at start 2016 was assumed). At the end of 1999 investors could pick up a 5 year old Panamax bulker for $14m. Trading that vessel at the start year one year timecharter rate for 10 years would have generated estimated earnings of $66.5m (after opex), and then as a 15 year old unit in 2009 the vessel could have been sold for $12.5m. That’s a small loss of $1.5m on the asset but still a total return of $65m, and an impressive internal rate of return (IRR) of 26%.

Playing Snap

A few years later, 5 year old Panamax bulkcarrier purchases did perhaps even better. Buying a 5 year old in 2002, once again at $14m, trading at the timecharter rate and selling as a 15 year old would have generated total returns of $73.2m and an IRR of 41%, whilst the equivalent project in 2003 would have generated $66.1m and an IRR of 44%. These vessels would have generated boom earnings earlier in the project period, subject to a heavier weighting in terms of the internal rate of return calculation.

Not Always A Good Hand

However, not all investors are so lucky. In this example, 5 year old ships purchased since 2008 (and sold this year, so admittedly with less time to hit upon a period of boom earnings) generated negative returns, and those purchased pre-1995 an average IRR of 7%. Buyers in 2008 would have lost a whopping $82.1m on the asset. Nevertheless, there was clearly a golden period; in the years 1998-2006 investors would have achieved an IRR ranging between 20% and 44%.

Unlucky (Or Lucky) 13?

So for those who have had the stomach to buy in at difficult times, there have been more than ample rewards. Today the price of a 5 year old Panamax is back at $13m. Dry bulk fundamentals, particularly on the demand side with the Chinese economy maturing, don’t look helpful at all (see SIW 1207), but with the 5 year old price at almost half that of a newbuild, who really knows what the longer-term opportunity might be?

Fortune favours the brave, but they also say that fools rush in. The outlook seems scary but investors might also have half an eye on their peers who invested at low points in the price cycle in the past. That’s the beauty of volatile and cyclical sectors, but it’s tricky food for thought for shipping investors. Are they willing to party like it’s 1999? Have a nice day.

SIW1210

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