Cargo liner faces wary investor reception

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 June, 2004, 12:00am

Pacific Basin will be hard-pressed to overcome gloom cast by CSCL's slide

Dry bulk niche shipping specialist Pacific Basin will today begin its share offer to increasingly wary investors, some of whom earlier this month watched the value of their investments in China Shipping Container Lines (CSCL) sink immediately after listing.

The company will offer 43.7 million shares in the retail tranche, or 10 per cent of the available shares.

It began the roadshow for the institutional tranche last Tuesday after a one-week delay while the firm wrestled with a 'complicated restructuring' and formulated a more attractive dividend payout policy, which it bumped to 'at least' 50 per cent of profit after tax, chairman Chris Buttery said. The offer price will be from HK$2.20 to $2.90, or 4.17 to 6.19 times this year's projected earnings of $500 million, up 170 per cent on last year. Pricing will be set on July 7.

The capital raised will be channelled to existing shareholders - two of the largest plan to cash out about 30 per cent of their holdings - and fund the expansion of its fleet, including US$47.4 million for six vessels on order at shipyards in China and Japan.

The company may be hard-pressed to distance itself from the perception that the hugely cyclical shipping sector reached its peak three months ago.

Pacific Basin, which operates 47 ships, is promoting itself as the market leader in the Handymax sector of the dry bulk shipping industry, a specialist niche well-suited for serving less-developed ports such as those found in the mainland and much of Southeast Asia.

The average age of the vessels under its management is six years, against what it says is an industry norm of about 17 years.

Given the growing reluctance among Asian shipyards to take on contracts for the less profitable new Handymax vessels, it expects to maintain this advantage.

'The risk of an oversupply of vessels for bulk does not exist for the foreseeable future,' Mr Buttery said. 'We are really the only player in the Pacific market which can handle the requirements of the first-class companies.

'Increasingly, we find the calls [for Handymax vessel services] are coming from the commodities desks and we are not having to compete in the market at all.'

Pacific Basin's ability to hit its capital target will have been boosted by a rebound last week in the Baltic Dry Index, which had lost more than 50 per cent of its value since February. The index appeared to hit its nadir last Tuesday and regained 7 per cent to close at 2,812 points on Monday.

An analyst said: 'The stocks responded very strongly to the Baltic rebound and that change may save the transaction for Pacific Basin.'

Pacific Basin's listing may also be weighed down by the disappointing IPO of CSCL, whose debut was tepidly received by the market and has yet to reach its listing price.

The companies, like their markets, are vastly different. But to most retail investors they remain bunched together as 'shipping' stocks, despite requiring vastly different approaches to valuation.

'The starting point for bulk carriers is [net asset value] for long-term valuations,' the analyst said. 'Container carriers are more about networks than about assets.'


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