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How the Coronavirus Crisis Affects Tanker Shipping And Stocks

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How the Coronavirus Crisis Affects Tanker Shipping And Stocks
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The coronavirus outbreak centered in China continues to worsen. Over 7,800 cases have been reported — already exceeding the 2002-03 SARS outbreak — and over 170 people have died.

Fallout for crude-tanker shipping and public equities took center stage on the quarterly conference call of tanker major Euronav (NYSE: EURN). While the comments on the call were about crude tankers, almost all of them could apply to all modes of shipping.

“This is bad news,” said Euronav CEO Hugo De Stoop. “Let’s not pretend it’s anything but bad news. The impact is definitely uncertain, but in the short term, it’s negative. In the long term, everybody is convinced it will be contained, so you want measures to be as strong as possible now so the virus is contained as quickly as possible,” he said.

Cargo Demand

As previously reported by FreightWaves, the sweeping shutdown of land and air transportation within China and to and from the country will weigh heavily on near-term oil demand given the outsize role China has in global consumption.

Another negative for tanker demand: OPEC is expected to extend production cuts in response to the coronavirus-induced plunge in oil prices.

According to De Stoop, “If we look at other terrible viruses that have spread in the past, what we know for sure is that once they are contained and things go back to normal, they don’t go back to normal. There’s huge stimulus, usually by China but also by other economies, to try to get back a bit of what has been lost during the [epidemic] period.

“So, if you predict that it may take a few months [before the virus is contained], what you will have is a fantastic first quarter — no matter what happens for the rest of the quarter, it will be a great first quarter — then you have summer, which is never the period we count on, and then the chances are we will be back in winter with a super-strong market, so it should be a great year,” he said.

When reporting fourth-quarter results on Thursday, Jan. 30, Euronav disclosed that it had booked 60% of available days for the first quarter for its very large crude carriers (VLCCs, tankers that carry 2 million barrels of crude oil) at an extremely high rate of $89,200 per day, and 51% of available days for its Suezmaxes (tankers that carry 1 million barrels) at $57,500 per day.

In the crude-tanker business, almost all bookings for a particular quarter are done in the prior quarter or the early part of the current quarter. Tanker rates were extremely high in the fourth quarter and first few weeks of 2020.

What De Stoop is saying is that full-year 2020 results should be strong based on exceptional first and fourth quarters (the fourth assuming the virus is contained), even if the coronavirus and seasonality hit the second and third.

Share Pricing

The coronavirus is hitting shipping stocks, including tanker stocks, even more severely than the broader market. Strong fundamentals, exceptional quarterly returns, incremental volumes driven by the new marine-fuel rules — all of those positives are now being erased in the stock market by coronavirus fears.

Euronav is a prime example. It reported net income $160.8 million for the fourth quarter of 2019, up from just $279,000 in the same period the year before. Earnings per share of $0.70 easily topped the consensus forecast for $0.63 per share. Its VLCCs averaged $61,700 per day in the spot market in the most recent quarter, and its Suezmaxes $35,700 per day. These rates, which De Stoop dubbed “remarkable,” were the highest since 2008, before the financial crisis.

And yet, Euronav’s share price was down 4% in the double the average trading volume on the day its results were announced (in mid-day trading, it was down 7%).

“In the first 10 days of January, we were finally getting our share price above NAV [net asset value], which is always our objective,” De Stoop said. “Obviously, we are not happy at all with our share price at the moment.” Investment bank Jefferies estimated that Euronav’s stock is now trading at a 24% discount to NAV.

De Stoop argued that the share decline creates “a fantastic entry point in tanker shipping companies. With Euronav, you have a guarantee to be paid with the dividends, and if that upside [following virus containment] doesn’t come as quickly as I just expressed, you are in a company with a super-strong balance sheet that can weather any storm. So yes, this [virus] is terrible news. It’s completely unexpected. But quite frankly, if I was an investor and I was attracted by this sector, I know where I would put my money.”

Time Charters

Asked whether the balance could shift toward more time charters as opposed to spot voyage contracts, De Stoop again brought up the coronavirus.

“The volume of time charters in the market is very thin. There have been even fewer opportunities in the last three to four months simply because the market has been extremely volatile. It was quickly going to $100,000 a day and then suddenly there was a massive drop [to around $45,000 a day]. So, everybody is looking each other in the eyes, and thinking on one side [a proposed time-charter rate] is too high and the other side saying it’s too low.

“We need to see a little bit more stability. And I think that because of the events affecting the market at this moment — and we spoke about the virus— it’s just too unpredictable for people to start signing long-term contracts,” he said.

Asset Values

Discussing potential “positives” of the outbreak, De Stoop pointed to the extremely high secondhand VLCC prices recorded in early January.

He noted that secondhand VLCCs have been sold for $107 million, versus a newbuilding contract price of $90 million. “I think those prices were probably exacerbated by the excitement around the rates and quite frankly we don’t think they were justified,” he said.

He noted that $90 million newbuilding price is unlikely to appreciate further because of the low orders at the yards. Owners are unusually reluctant to order newbuilds due to ongoing uncertainty over future emissions standards. De Stoop said the newbuild price should “anchor” the secondhand values, which are at premium to newbuilding pricing in a strong market (because second-hand purchases can earn immediately; a newbuild takes 14 months to deliver).

The implication is that the newbuilding price anchor combined with weaker sentiment due to lower spot rates and the coronavirus fears should serve to either maintain or reduce secondhand values.

Buybacks

Euronav bought back $30 million of its own stock last year. It has targeted a return of 80% of quarterly net income to shareholders through dividends and/or buybacks. But the buyback aspect of the equation faces new uncertainty due to the coronavirus.

“The philosophy of this company has always been the same,” said the CEO. “We don’t rush to buy back our shares. If there is weakness in the share price, we want to see if it’s a temporary weakness or whether it’s more permanent. If it’s more permanent, then obviously we’d think very seriously about it [share buybacks].

“We’re disappointed about what’s going on at the moment, but we understand there are exceptional circumstances around that. Before deploying capital for share repurchases, we need to see how long and how deep it will go. Because if you buy back today, maybe tomorrow it will be weaker. If [share-price weakness] is deeper tomorrow, you’d better wait before deploying your capital.”

He continued, “Let’s see how capital markets react to this virus and the continuous flow of news we’re going to receive. Let’s see what happens to tanker markets and tanker values and where we are [in the share price] compared to NAV.”

Takeaways For Tanker Stocks

The comments on the Euronav call were negative in general for tanker stocks, which are falling across the board.

Shipping stocks are valued in relation to NAV, and the most important variable of NAV is the market value of the ships in the fleet. If the coronavirus and other factors either cap or decrease tanker asset values, it’s bad for stock prices.

Secured revenue streams via time charters at attractive rates are a positive for tanker companies. If coronavirus uncertainty reduces the ability to sign such contracts, it’s another negative.

There are also conflicts between De Stoop’s statement that the crisis creates “a fantastic entry point” and some of his other comments on the call. First, if tanker rates aren’t likely to recover until next winter, assuming virus containment, why buy shares now?

Second, if Euronav itself is openly hesitant to buy its own shares specifically because states on the record that “you’d better wait” to see how the coronavirus situation develops, why shouldn’t individual investors wait as well?

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It’s Not ‘Unreasonable’ To See Gold Prices Soar To $4000 During Bull Market

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It’s Not ‘Unreasonable’ To See Gold Soar To $4000 During Bull Market

Despite gaining 35% this year, gold prices have plenty of room to run, says Michael Cuggino, the CEO of the Permanent Portfolio Family of Funds.

Cuggino says that since gold formed a triple bottom from the end of 2015 through November of 2018, it has consistently climbed higher and has really soared this year.

“Ever since then, it has been a gradual move up, then some down. It moves sometimes in big chunks, gives some back, sits around and does nothing, reacts to stimulus, inflation, the value of dollar and euro … but it has had an aggressive move this year,” Cuggino said.

Possible Setbacks Along the Way?

With gold climbing so quickly in a relatively short period of time, Cuggino warns there could be sharp pullbacks along the way. But he says the overall trend is for higher gold prices.

Cuggino says the recipe of continued money printing by the government, the dollar steadily declining and growing inflationary fears mean it would “not be an unreasonable move” to see gold prices soaring to $4,000 an ounce.

He points to a metric that compares gold prices to the closing levels for the S&P 500 index. Gold is currently trading at 0.6 times the level of the S&P 500 and it hasn’t climbed above 0.7 since 2014. But when you go back to August 2011, gold traded as high as 1.7 times the S&P 500, so there’s plenty of upside for gold prices.

Gold Still Has a Long Way to Go

Just adjusting for inflation, gold would need to climb above $2,800 per ounce to equal 1980 levels, which means this gold rally has a long way to go.

Mike Shedlock, the Mish Talk blogger and investment adviser at SitkaPacific Capital Management, thinks the fuel that could push gold to $2,800 per ounce could come from all the hedge funds that are currently on the sidelines and missed the early innings of the gold rally.

“There is ample room for Fear of Missing Out to kick in as the managed money and big spec hedge funds sat out much of the recent rally,” he writes. “And with 105,025 short contracts there is plenty of fuel for a short squeeze too.”

E.B. Tucker, director of Metalla Royalty and Streaming, believes that the current rally will continue, and he thinks gold prices could hit $2,500 by the end of the year.

“Normally I would say [the bull run is overheated] but what I’m seeing in the daily action is that gold is rising in a very measured way and is not meeting much resistance, so when that’s happening you just step out of the way and let it go, that’s what you do,” Tucker said.

Like Cuggino, Tucker says there could be pullbacks in price along the way, but he says we’re in a secular bull market like we may never see again.

“This is a secular bull market. This is a bull market in gold that you’re probably never going to see in the course of your life again.”

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Nasdaq Sets A New Record, Dow Forms A ‘Golden Cross’

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Nasdaq Sets A New Record, Dow Forms A ‘Golden Cross’

Since bottoming in late March, the stock market continues to set records in what seems like an almost invincible climb higher.

Nevermind that Jim Cramer said the rally is being driven by the “power of enthusiastic buyers who do not know what they’re doing” and that he can’t fathom “how stupidly bullish this market can be,” the fact is that stocks are climbing higher.

The latest evidence for a runaway stock market is that the Nasdaq Composite Index just gained 1,000 points. It happened in the shortest amount of time in the last 20 years.

1000-Point Climb

It took 114 days for the index to climb from the 9,000 level to the 10,000 level. That milestone was hit on June 10 of this year.

In just 40 days since, the Nasdaq has tacked on another 1,000 points, climbing above the 11,000 level.

That is the fastest 1000-point gain for the index since it took a blistering 38 days in 1999. Back then, it climbed from the 3,000 level to the 4,000 level.

You might recall that period, it was during the dot-com bubble. We know how that ended.

Today’s 1000-point climb is only a 10% overall gain (from 10,000 to 11,000) compared to the 33% overall gain during the ‘99 surge (from 3,000 to 4,000). However, it’s still a blistering pace that investors pay attention to.

“Although 11,000 by itself doesn’t mean much, these big round numbers are a nice reminder of just how strong this rally has been since the March lows,” said Ryan Detrick, the chief investment strategist at LPL Financial.

A ‘Golden Cross’

Not wanting to miss the fun, the Dow Jones Industrial Average just flashed its own bullish signal to investors.

The index just formed a “golden cross,” where the shorter-term 50-day moving average crosses above the long-term 200-day moving average.

Investors consider this to be a bullish signal for the index, as it shows the short term momentum is strong.

Conversely, when the 50-day moving average crosses below the 200-day it’s called a “death cross” and is a bearish indicator. The last “death cross” was on March 20. On that day, the stock market was pummeled by the economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

With the rally being led by technology stocks, the Nasdaq – which is more than 50% tech stocks – has gained more than 60% since the March lows. The S&P 500 is made up of about 25% tech stocks and has gained nearly 50% since March, and only 20% of the Dow is tech stocks so it’s lagged behind, gaining only 47% since March.

How reliable is the “golden cross” for stocks to move higher? According to Dow Jones Market Data, the last time a “golden cross” failed was in January 2016. That was also the last time the market slipped lower.

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Get In On The Hottest Investment Trend Today: SPACs

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Get In On The Hottest Investment Trend Today: SPACs

The hottest new investment trend right now are SPACs, or special purpose acquisition company. It’s how Nikola Motor Company, which plans on making both electric and hydrogen-powered trucks, went public virtually overnight.

With the IPO market cooling, it has become an appealing alternative for private companies looking for a quicker and easier path to being publicly traded.

Now billionaires are tripping over themselves to create SPACs as quickly as possible. They need to do so if they want to get in on the gold rush.

What are SPACs?

SPACs are commonly referred to as a “blank check” company and with good reason: they are created to go around gathering a bunch of money from investors with the only goal to buy an existing business within a specific time frame, usually 18 to 24 months.

The management team essentially has a blank check to go out and buy any business it sees fit. Some are created with a specific acquisition in mind. Others are created simply to have the money in place and ready to go when the opportunity arises.

The structure is very similar to private equity deals or leveraged buyouts. Also, private equity firms, hedge funds, and other “smart money” investors sponsored the creation of many SPACs.

Many of these SPACs are publicly traded. So, if the idea of having “smart money” go around hunting for the best deals on your behalf sounds appealing, you can typically invest in them through your normal brokerage account.

Here’s a short list of SPACs that you can either buy today or can buy very shortly once they go public. Be aware, many of these SPACs are just a few weeks old. So, there isn’t much history to judge their performance by.

Pershing Square Tontine Holdings (PSTH.U)

Fresh off a billion-dollar payday in March, Pershing Square Capital Management’s Bill Ackman just launched a $4 billion SPAC, the largest in history after overwhelming interest from investors.

Ackman has the right to put in another billion, giving the company access to a total of $5 billion to hunt for what Ackman calls a “unicorn” with “significant long-term growth potential that will be likely candidates for inclusion in the S&P 500 index.”

“Our thesis is by having a $5 billion cash pile in a public company; it’s our own version of a unicorn. It’s a one-of-a-kind entity,” Ackman said during an interview with Yahoo Finance. “So, we’re looking to marry a unicorn. So we’re prettying ourselves up for the most attractive possible partner.”

Churchill Capital IV (CCIV.U)

While not publicly traded yet, this will be founder Michael Klein’s fourth SPAC. Two of them have acquired companies and one has yet to find an acquisition target. To highlight investor demand for SPACs, Klein raised $1.8 billion for his fourth SPAC. This figure stands at 80% more than what he originally planned.

With his latest SPAC, Klein is looking for a company with excellent long-term growth prospects, a strong competitive advantage, recurring revenue, attractive free cash flow. He is also looking for a company that is in an industry where consolidation opportunities exist.

Dragoneer Growth Opportunities (DGNR.U)

Like Churchill Capital, this SPAC is not yet publicly traded. The company is lead by CEO Marc Stad, who appeared multiple times on Fortune magazines “40 Under 40” list. Also, other directors include David Ossip, CEO of Ceridian HCM Holding, and Sarah Frier, CEO of neighborhood social network Nextdoor.

Stad has a strong pedigree, having backed a number of very successful companies in the past, including Spotify and Uber Technologies. Dragoneer will focus on six areas: software, internet, media, consumer/retail, healthcare IT, and financial services/fintech.

East Resources Acquisition (ERESU)

Current Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula started East Resources targeting the energy industry in North America.

It makes sense given Pegula’s history, having sold his company, East Resources, to Royal Dutch Shell for $4.7 billion in 2010.

Now Pegula is back, looking for operational control of a company that has long-lived assets with low fixed costs, that is producing oil and gas and generating free cash flow, but is operating below full capabilities.

With Pegula’s extensive knowledge of the oil and gas industry, he could find multiple opportunities in a short period of time.

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