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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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?
The Next Generation of Sin Stocks to Ride Out a Bear Market
While the recent stock market rally has technically pushed the Dow Jones Industrial Average out of a bear market, many investors aren’t convinced it will last.
They expect that once the euphoria surrounding the $2 trillion stimulus plan wears off, the market will resume its slide downward as the economic impact of the coronavirus takes hold in the next few quarters.
Sin stocks, so named because they are things that we should go without but can’t seem to part ways with, are historically a great investment during downturns.
The added stress and uncertainty means an uptick in business for the companies producing these sinful indulgences.
Things like alcohol, cigarettes, weapons and gambling all fall under the umbrella of sin stocks, so companies like Altria (NYSE:MO), Diageo (NYSE:DEO), Sturm Ruger (NYSE:RGR) and MGM Resorts (NYSE:MGM) are all widely considered to be sin stocks.
And while they can make great investments during times of uncertainty, there’s a new breed of sin stocks that could generate even larger returns over the coming months as Americans turn to their (new) favorite vices.
Here’s a short list of “next gen” sin stocks that we expect to do very well.
While this is by no means a “new” vice, it is only in the last few years that it’s been possible to directly invest in companies that produce and sell marijuana. That wasn’t possible during the 2008 financial crisis, so it will be interesting to see how the major players do during their first economic downturn.
Just like smoking, we expect demand to hold up very well, if not increase, during times of turmoil.
Consider the larger companies like Canopy Growth (NYSE:CGC), GW Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq:GWPH) and Cronos Group (Nasdaq:CRON).
Being a “gamer” is a lifestyle now, with livestreaming on YouTube and Twitch and professional Esports leagues formed around the most popular titles like Call of Duty and Overwatch.
Video games are big money now, and the larger production studios will continue to generate massive revenues as the culture grows in the years ahead.
Look at the big studios with strong franchises like Activision Blizzard (Nasdaq:ATVI) which has the Call of Duty and Overwatch franchises and Electronic Arts (Nasdaq:EA) which has the Madden, Battlefield and FIFA franchises.
Social Media Platforms
If you have a child or grandchild under the age of 30, you are probably very aware of the effort it takes to get their attention away from their phones and all the social media apps or platforms that they are using.
Tik-Tok, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are all designed to keep users engaged and spending as much time as possible on their platforms. The publicly traded ones are Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) and Facebook, which also owns Instagram (Nasdaq:FB)
While there are no guarantees when it comes to investing, as the coronavirus causes more people to spend time at home, they’ll be spending more time using the products and services of these next generation sin stocks, and that should translate to more revenues and higher profits for the companies.
Dow and S&P Post First Back-to-Back Gains Since February
While it may be a small victory, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 managed to post their first back-to-back positive days since February.
The Dow closed 2.39% higher, gaining 495 points to close at 21,200. The S&P was up 1.15%, closing 28 points higher at 2,475.
The Dow was helped by a massive 24% rally in Boeing shares and a 9.2% gain for Nike stock.
The Nasdaq slid 0.5% yesterday as the tech-heavy index saw Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Alphabet all close in negative territory.
Stock gave back part of their gains right before the market closed when Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said he was ready to “put a hold” on the $2 trillion stimulus bill currently working its way through the Senate.
Sanders is looking for tighter restrictions on companies receiving aid from a taxpayer pool of $500 billion.
While the market has used the likely passage of the stimulus bill as a catalyst for the massive rally over the last two days, at least one investor says the stimulus is reassuring Wall Street, not Main Street.
“What the fiscal and monetary stimulus has done is to allow the market to recover,” said Justin Hoogendoorn, head of fixed income strategy at Piper Jaffray in Chicago. “It’s not because the main street community is coming back. It’s the institutional crowd being able to say, ‘the world isn’t falling apart’.”
Others are worried that the euphoria over the stimulus bill is driving the market higher in the same way it originally drove the market down.
Adam Crisafulli, founder of Vital Knowledge, said in a note:
“The stimulus measures will continue acting as equity tailwinds as they seep into corners of the credit market presently locked.”
But he added that the market “is clearly moving much faster than underlying fundamentals and just as sharp declines on prior sessions exaggerated economic conditions, the rebounds will too.”
On Wednesday, former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that he expects the U.S. economy will have a quick rebound after a “very sharp” recession.
“If there’s not too much damage done to the workforce, to the businesses during the shutdown period, however long that may be, then we could see a fairly quick rebound,” Bernanke said while appearing on CNBC’s Squawk Box.
He added “This is a very different animal from the Great Depression” which he said “came from human problems, monetary and financial shocks. This has some of the same feel, some of the feel of panic, some of the feel of volatility that you’re talking about. It’s much closer to a major snowstorm or a natural disaster than a classic 1930′s-style depression.”
In order for the markets to avoid a “snowstorm” turning into a recession, Peter Oppenheimer, chief global equity strategist at Goldman Sachs, said there are four “components” needed for stabilization:
″(i) A sign that the policy intervention is sufficient to prevent severe second- and third-round economic shocks; (ii) A sign that the infection rate is reaching a peak; (iii) A sign that the economic downturn may be slowing; and (iv) Cheap valuations,” Oppenheimer wrote in a note to clients. “In reality, we believe it will be a combination of these, and in some cases there are already signs these are in place.”
Stocks Soar During Historic Day For The Dow
Stocks soared yesterday on news that the $2 trillion stimulus bill was “on the five yard line” and close to be finalized by both the Democrats and Republicans.
The stimulus package will provide relief for companies that have been caught up in the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.
Delays in the bill’s passage were due to the Democrat’s concerns that the bill favored Wall Street over Main Street.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared on CNBC and told Jim Cramer that there is “real optimism” of a stimulus deal being reached. “We think the bill has moved sufficiently to the side of workers,” she said.
After news broke of the deal nearing completion, stocks went on to stage a historic rally that lifted all three major indexes.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 11.37%, or 2,112 points, for its biggest one-day percentage gain since 1933 and its largest point gain ever. The S&P 500 rallied 9.38% for its best day since October 2008 and the Nasdaq climbed 8.12%.
With the stimulus bill close to passing and the markets staging a historic rally, some were willing to look ahead and predict the end of the bear market.
Michael Novogratz, CEO of Galaxy Digital, was on CNBC’s Squawk Box and said “From a market perspective… it feels like we’re coming to the end of it,” and said he started buying again on Monday.
Far more investors, however, view yesterday’s rally as nothing more than a one-day rebound.
“This was a one-day bull market,” CNBC’s Jim Cramer said on “Closing Bell” on Tuesday. “You had stocks that moved so much they basically moved as if the second half of the year is going to be good. I struggle to find out why the second half of the year should be good …I hate this kind of rally. This was a machine driven rally, just like the sell-offs … I want to wait to see.”
Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou, a managing director at JPMorgan, said the rally could be partly due to short sellers covering their positions to grab profits. He said there could be “considerable short covering from here,” which would temporarily lift equity prices.
Others believe it may be nothing more than a simple bounce due to so many stocks being oversold.
Sam Stovall, chief investment officer at CFRA Research said “Even in bear markets, you can end up being oversold, and I think that this market was stretched like a rubber band that, at least in the near term, was ready to snap back.”
That “snap back” rally is adding to the market volatility. Last week, the index climbed to 82.69, beating the highest reading during the 2008 financial crisis. The volatility index (VIX) did drop yesterday 1.2%, to 60.85.
What remains to be seen is if the rally can last for more than a single day, and if buyers will continue showing up before the coronavirus is contained. Many believe that the rally is nothing more than optimism surrounding the stimulus plan, and that a lasting rebound in the markets won’t happen until there’s clear evidence that the coronavirus has slowed.
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