Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Few Thoughts on Greek Shipping and Taxes

We have all witnessed a lot of Greek drama during the past few weeks as the impasse between the Greek government and its international creditors reached a climax. It now appears that after months of terse negotiations between the two parties, Greece has finally agreed to pass and implement austerity measures in exchange for financial aid.

One of the innocent bystanders in all this has been the Greek shipping community. As part of the broad agreement between Athens and the Eurozone, the Greek government has undertaken to increase the tonnage tax, a flat tax that is assessed each year on all ships that are managed by shipping companies based in Greece.

As expected the shipping community has been up in arms crying foul over the proposed tax and threatening to leave to more tax-friendly locales like Monaco, Dubai, or Singapore. This has made me wonder: what would be the effect of increased tonnage tax on a shipping company’s running costs?

Tonnage tax is the only tax levied by the Greek government, since shipping companies based in Greece are not subject to income taxes on their profits. I have calculated the tonnage taxes per ownership day for three of the largest dry cargo shipping companies based in Athens: Diana Shipping Inc. (DSX), Safe Bulkers Inc. (SB), and Star Bulk Carriers Corp. (SBLK). Tonnage taxes are a component of vessel operating expenses.

Tonnage taxes remain a rather small component of vessel operating expenses, ranging between $113-$153 per day for year 2014 for the three dry-cargo companies in my sample.

Let’s assume for argument’s sake that the Greek government unilaterally doubles the tonnage tax in accordance with the agreement provision. Is this amount really the straw that will break the camel’s back and force a mass exodus of Greek shipping companies to greener pastures? I don’t think so.

But let’s further assume that Greek shipping companies do decide to move to Monaco, Dubai, Singapore, or even London or New York. Have shipping executives done a cost of living comparison between say Monaco or New York City and Athens? The argument that shipping companies will migrate to substantially higher cost locations to avoid tonnage taxes seems ludicrous.

I believe the lobbying on behalf of Greek ship-owners is not about tonnage taxes, but about keeping their income tax-free status. Greek ship-owners are some of the hardest-nosed traders you can find. I don’t believe a tempest in a teapot will cloud their business acumen. I suspect that they will cut a deal with the taxman sooner or later, and if I may add for the benefit of both sides.

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Why is Diana Shipping Issuing High-Yield Securities?

I recently had the opportunity to analyze two types of securities issued by Diana Shipping Inc. (DSX), namely the 8.875% series B perpetual preferred shares (DSXPRB), and its 8.5% senior notes due on May 20th, 2020 (DSXN). There has been a broad consensus among shipping analysts that these securities offer an attractive low-risk, high-yield profile. Both have consistently traded at or above par.

This should not come as a surprise: Diana Shipping has long been considered the safest play among publicly traded dry-cargo shipping companies. It has high levels of cash reserves & low levels of debt among its peers and vis-à-vis its market capitalization. Such conservatism has allowed the company to sail through a prolonged bear market dating back to 2011.

Which brings the question: If Diana Shipping is in solid financial footing why did it elect to raise $128 million in high yield debt and preferred equity? As of the end of 2014, Diana Shipping had $210 million outstanding in a revolving credit facility with an interest rate of 0.95%. It also had $276 million of bank term loans with a weighted average interest rate of 2.68%. Why issue high-yield securities at an average cost of more than 8.50%?

During the past five years Diana Shipping has nearly doubled its operating fleet by growing organically. To achieve this milestone, it has relied on cash generated from operations and proceeds from long-term debt. However during the same period DSX has experienced a dramatic downward trend in daily revenue per vessel as measured in TCE (time charter equivalent) rate per day.

This has resulted to an equally dramatic reduction of operating cash flow, especially when measured on an ownership day. The reduction in cash provided from operating activities is what has forced the company to seek alternative sources of funds.

Given that operating cash flow is not currently expected to contribute more than $15-$20 million on an annualized basis, the company might have to tap capital markets again to supplement its funding requirements. When this happens, it will be interesting to see whether DSX will issue common equity or rely again on high-yield securities.

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Diana Shipping: Senior Notes or Preferred Shares?

On May 20th Diana Shipping Inc. (DSX) sold 8.5% senior notes in a public offering. The notes have a five-year term, maturing on May 15th, 2020. The total principal amount sold was $63,250,000 including the underwriters’ over allotment option, which was fully exercised. A total of 2,530,000 notes were sold at a par value of $25 per note. The notes are traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol DSXN.

Last year Diana Shipping had raised $65,000,000 in gross proceeds, selling 2,600,000 preferred shares at $25 per share. The 8.875% series B cumulative perpetual shares are also traded on the NYSE under the symbol DSXPRB.

With the exception of the above offerings, Diana Shipping has shunned public markets for several years. Its last equity offering is dating back to May 2009. Since then the dry-cargo shipping company has relied on cash generated from operations & commercial debt to finance its fleet growth. Even though the dry-cargo market is currently very depressed and with no signs for a speedy recovery, Diana Shipping has been the most conservative company among its peers by maintaining a very comfortable level of net debt to total capitalization.

Poor fundamentals for the dry cargo shipping industry in general have raised borrowing costs, which in turn have made Diana’s senior notes and preferred shares very attractive to long-term yield-seeking investors. In this article I will compare the similarities & differences between the two securities. 

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