Thursday, November 19, 2009

A turnaround for Aries?

New CEO Michael Zolotas and CFO Allan Shaw recently gave a presentation of their plans to turn around Aries Maritime (RAMS) and use it as a platform for growth. They talked about recapitalization, fleet mix, in-house technical management, chartering strategy, steamlined GA costs and the new management team. Their new focus is on dry cargo and product trades. They have dropped in six additional units from GrandUnion and recapitalized with US$ 36 equity and US$ 182 mio additional debt. Let's evaluate.

The vessel transfer from GrandUnion consists of two 1990-vintage Capesize bulkers, two Panamax bulkers built 1990/ 2002 and two Dwt 37.000 product tankers built 2003/ 2004. The nominal purchase price is US$ 180 mio of which US$ 160 mio in debt liabilities and US$ 20 mio in shares (at a 125% premium to current price). The new management has booked the two remaining Aries container units for sale at US$ 11,4 mio .

In terms of hardware, Aries now has a fleet of 21 vessels: eleven product carriers and seven bulk carriers. Two Dwt 73.000 product tankers are on bareboat charter to Stena until 2H 2010. The two additional product carriers are time chartered until 2011. The remaining product tankers ranging from Dwt 38.000 t0 73.000 are on the spot market. All the bulk carriers are on time charters of various durations with fairly low rates mostly in the teens except the Cape unit Brazil, which has a good paying period charter with an initial rate of US$ 28.000 per day.

The large number of product carriers on the spot market presents a serious exposure problem since this sector was very hard hit this year and is suffering badly in the current market. The new management will have to determine a new employment strategy. This is a challenge but their new business director, Paul Wogan played an instrumental role in developing the Seachem pool for Livanos facilitating the Odfjell merger and is a capable person. They may have to invest to build up a chartering team. There appears to be no existing contract base from GrandUnion and they will have to create a viable customer base for Aries in the product sector.

Ironically their fleet mix is similar to Top Ships (TOPS), the other well-known Wall Street laggard of the Greek Shipping community, which seems to be doing a bit better lately. The Aries drybulk units are distinctly older than the TOPS units that were bought at the height of the market albeit with much better age profile. The Aries units are mainly Capesize units whereas TOPS focused on the Panamax size. The Capesize sector has been outperforming the market this year. Older units like the Aries vessels can be very profitable, but it is a very volatile market.  Presently they are tied up on time-charters with rate levels that are moderate compared to more modern units, excepting the Brazil charter. 

What is worrisome is the high level of debt on the six additional vessels (US$ 160 mio liabilities out of a purchase price of US$ 180 mio) and the large amount of additional debt in the recapitalization (US$ 182 mio against US$ 36 mio new equity). The 30.09.2009 pro-forma balance sheet looks ghastly with the shrunken asset values, high level of debt, free cash down to zero, US$ 124 mio loss of which a US$ 91 mio asset impairment charge and distinctly negative net worth.

It would have been helpful with all the additional changes and recapitalization that they had included in their presentation a restatement of their balance sheet after the additional changes in the fleet and capitalization. I find, however, difficult to see any major improvement in leverage in these subsequent events.  The largest share of new funds has been raised by additional debt. The new equity is small in comparison to the new debt and the drop-in units are highly leveraged. Aries still appears to be a company swimming in debt. Perhaps they preferred debt in the recapitalization to limit share dilution, assuming limited downside risk on further fall in vessel market values and looking to enhance returns. The positive hope is expectations of improved earnings from the expanded fleet and new management.

The new members of the management mark a considerable qualitative improvement from the previous management (the former CEO Jeff Parry was probably the sole credible person). It was a good move that they wrote down the assets and renegotiated the debt. Adding Newlead management was a very positive step. The previous technical management was disastrous and had a horrendous insurance record. It is now largely a matter of their commercial team and their opportunistic accreditive acquisitions to create value in their business.

They have secured additional funds for this, but they still appear to have a strained balanced sheet as a limiting factor. If there is a nice market upturn in 2010, it will provide them much necessary uplift in free cash flow and retained earnings to rebuild shareholder equity and deleverage. Rising asset prices will also help.  On the other hand, they will be at risk if market recovery is delayed and 2010 proves a poor year. In the negative scenario, they could end up with some of their new funds being cannibalized for debt service and require further financial restructuring.

Aries certainly shows significant progress, but it is still work in progress and a speculative play.

No comments:

Post a Comment