Singapore: These are interesting times for Uni-Asia, the Singapore-listed diverse conglomerate with interests in hotels, property and shipping. The first two strands of the business are clearly propping the maritime division, but also allowing Uni-Asia to position itself for any uptick in its chosen sector, handysize bulkers.
Michio Tanamoto, chairman and ceo of the company, reckons handies could make a comeback in 2017, hence why he’s keen to pen a series of contracts for a few Japanese newbuilds soon.
“The handysize market has been slow due to coal trade volumes in China, new tonnage and the supply/demand gap,” Tanamoto concedes. However of the roughly 3,200 handies in the market, he points out 16% are over 20 years old and 30% over 15 years old.
“I don’t expect volumes to pick up the market but scrapping of these older vessels should provide a recovery sometime in 2017,” he tells Maritime CEO.
Uni-Asia was founded in 1997 by three Japanese bankers, two in Hong Kong and Tanamoto in Singapore. Initially the company started out providing finance to shipping as well as building up a property and hotels empire. In 2003 it made its first foray into shipping investment. Nowadays the fleet is made up of 15 bulkers, five containerships and two product tankers. Of this total 13 are in joint ventures and the rest 100% owned.
It also owns a shipmanagement company in China, Wealth Ocean Ship Management, and manages seven vessels with Tanamoto revealing the company would like to expand more into third party management.
“There will definitely be more bankruptcies due to the slow recovery and the poor market conditions,” Tanamoto says. “Luckily for Uni-Asia we have property and hotels which have been booming while shipping has been struggling, this offers the company good balance,” he adds.
With Uni-Asia’s founders all coming from a banking background, they are well placed to highlight the changing scene for ship finance in and around Tokyo.
“Japanese banks are very aggressive at the moment,” Tanamoto says, “and its not just the major banks but also the local banks.” Tanamoto explains how it used to be just the local banks near the sea which would get involved in shipping, now even the local inland banks are promoting the sector. This is good news for a company such as Uni-Asia keen to buy more handies.