Posidonia talking points (part two)

Posidonia talking points (part two)

With the parties already in full swing – we’re off to Lloyd’s Register’s jamboree this evening – Splash canvasses famous names in the industry on what the likely mood will be at this year’s Posidonia.

Following on from yesterday’s Posidonia talking points article by columnist Dagfinn Lunde, Splash spent much of the past week gauging opinion from regular attendees of shipping’s most famous show on what to expect.

Over tzatziki and a chilled Greek white, it seems the majority of debate will focus on finance – or the lack of it – with side discussions on what’s going on at Asian shipyards, and where the dry bulk shipping cycle is at the moment.

Neatly setting the scene, New York-based ship financier Basil Karatzas says: “I think Deep Throat said it best: ‘follow the money’” – a reference to the famous Watergate informant that helped bring down US president Richard Nixon. “It’s about the money at this stage, or lack thereof,” Karatzas continues. “Steel plate and ships are not important at this stage; money and raising the money is much more important; dry bulk owners are losing money and need to find money for survival; buyers with money get the best deals; financially controlled vessels are looking for financing too. PE is dead, capital markets are very quiet, banks are out of shipping. It’s all about the money.”

Quite so, concurs Morits Skaugen, ceo of Norwegian tanker firm IM Skaugen.

“The biggest talking point at Posidonia,” he says, “is likely to be refinance risk and where to find available finance to plug cash flow needs. Alternatives for owners are drying up.”

Harry Theochari, global head of transport at Norton Rose Fulbright, agrees with Karatzas and Skaugen in assuming ship finance talk will dominate in Athens. On top of that, there’ll be much discussion on the markets with Theochari quipping: “Is that light at the end of the tunnel or a train coming our way?” The veteran lawyer says he senses “cautious optimism”.

Craig Jallal, data analyst at VesselsValue.com, is not so sure about this cautious optimism. He reckons the mood at this year’s show will be very different to Posidonias of the past.

“The benchmark Posidonia for me was the era of the dot.coms,” he recalls, “when Shippingbabes.com was at its height, the markets buoyant, and macho shipowners turned up to the parties in open top Ferraris with their glamorous ‘niece’. I think the mood at this Posidonia will be one of relief, of the defenders mutely celebrating surviving 3,000 days of siege. The weak and frail have already died off, and the canny still have resources. In the early years of the downturn, there was talk at Posidonias past of the big shipowners waiting for the state to sell-off utilities. Now we are in an era of incremental savings to lower costs, such as closing the back office and using a third-party for demurrage and voyage calculations, or binning large brokers and their nice-to-have research and buying only the necessities.”

Paul Slater, a famous name in ship finance and chairman of First International Corp, also sees a more downcast mood at this year’s show. “Posidonia faces the fact that the shipping industry is failing to recover and a large number of Greek owners face bankruptcy,” he warns.

Pankaj Khanna, founder of Singapore-based bulker owner Pioneer Marine, says beyond the regular markets and finance chitchat, other topics likely to be heard around the pool at the Astir Palace will be mergers and acquisitions, when private equity will start to exit shipping deals done in 2012/2013. Also, he stresses deals will be done in the balmy conditions of the Greek capital in the coming week. “People love doing deals during Posidonia,” Khanna says.

What of the show’s organiser? Theo Vokos, executive director of Posidonia Exhibitions, tells Splash: “Posidonia 2016 will of course also be reflecting upcoming changes in the industry, which come as a result of both new legislation coming into force, as well as changing market conditions.”

Demitris Memos, who heads up MarineTraffic, an AIS vessel traffic system used on this site, says: “I guess that a lot of the discussion will be around the recession and the outlook for the industry, involving operational and commercial efficiency issues, which will inevitably lead to talk about big data/analytics/intelligence.”

StealthGas ceo Harry Vafias, meanwhile, tells Splash major talking points, he anticipates, will be bankrupty, Brexit, taxes and the relocation of shipping companies out of Greece.

Tom Boardley, executive vice president at UK class society Lloyd’s Register, thinks another topic might dominate in the coming days.

“What will be the future shape of the Korean shipbuilding industry?” he muses. While the Koreans will be at Posidonia en masse, back home the sector is going through very painful restructuring.

Chipping in on this point, Braemar Asia president Denis Petropoulos warns owners not to be taken in by all the yard marketing efforts. “The shipping community in Greece needs to resist the temptation of ordering new ships despite yard incentives,” he suggests.

Clay Maitland, a Splash columnist, will be at Posidonia with a few hats on. The Marshall Islands flag will be at the event, which he administers, plus New York Maritime Inc (NYMAR), which Maitland chairs, will be releasing a book at the show. Among other topics that are likely to crop up in the coming days, Maitland says is the hardy perennial: “Can this government – Syriza – take steps to lure offshore Greek shipping back to Greece? Are such steps desirable?” he muses.

Martin Rowe, a broker with Clarksons Platou will be jetting in from Hong Kong for the show. A regular Posidonia attendee, like Maitland, he also wonders how the local economic situation will influence the mood this time around.

“How appropriate is it to party in Athens against a backdrop of middle class Greeks made poor by years of austerity scavenging rubbish bins for leftovers?” he questions.

“We’ve all got to do our bit to help Greece recover,” Rowe continues, “let them know that they’ve still got friends who love Greek people and their country and that there is still a future. Hence if our ‘bit’ involves sipping champagne and nibbling canapes staring out over a flawless Aegean sunset, then count me in.”

Splash will be bringing exclusive, unrivalled coverage of Posidonia for the coming week.

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