Thursday, June 9, 2011

Stolt in enviable position to issue bonds and lower its cost of capital

Stolt Nielson is chemical tanker leader with a strong contract base, consistently good P+L results and moderate financial leverage. They recently tapped the bond market to fund expansion opportunities and raise general corporate funds. After a swap, this results in a low fixed-rate US Dollar obligation. How are beleaguered peers like Eitzen Chemical and Berlian Laju Tankers (BLT) under the weight of their heavy debt loads/ leasing obligations with high finance costs going to compete with Stolt?

The Oslo-listed chemical tanker company has placed NOK 1.6 bn (US$ 300 mio) of five-year senior unsecured bonds. These bonds, which will be listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange, carry a coupon of three-month NIBOR plus 4.75%. Stolt has converted them though a swap to a fixed-rate US Dollar obligation of 6,63%.

The chemical tanker sector has less tonnage overhang supply problems that most other shipping sectors. Demand is expected to outpace supply as long as global GDP grows by 3% or more. The IMF forecasts 4.4% growth for 2011. Supply side characterized by newbuilding delays and high entry barriers. On a base case scenario, this would call for a 2,6% increase in fleet utilization that could lead to a 20% rise in asset values.

The only negative aspect for Stolt is that due their heavy contract book, rate increases would lag in their P+L results until contract book roll-over and rate renewal.

Presently time charter rates are flat in the chemical tanker market with stainless Dwt 19.900 tonnage fixed at rates of US$ 12.500 for twelve months. This business climate continues to favor Stolt over its weaker peers in the sector like Eitzen and BLT, who have to absorb the high financing costs, live with the slim margins and hope for upturn.

Aside from its chemical tanker business, Stolt also has a very lucrative chemical storage business that has a higher return on assets than the shipping business and a stable long term secured cash flow that adds earnings stability.

Eitzen and BLT are totally dependent on the vagaries of chemical tanker market and are paying easily double the financing cost of Stolt on a much higher debt load.

Should there be an unexpected double dip recession, their lenders will be facing some very nasty losses. Further if their financial position deteriorates, then Stolt will pick up market share from their end-user customers worried about rising contract performance risk.  Stolt would be in the enviable position of picking up their better assets at cut rate prices.

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