Watch Now

Containership charterer Seaspan eager to grow its fleet

Seaspan Corp. CEO Bing Chen says the containership charterer has the liquidity and financial wherewithal to add ships.

Seaspan, the largest containership charterer, wants to continue to grow its fleet. (Photo: Port of Los Angeles)

Reporting Seaspan Corp.’s (NYSE: SSW) third-quarter earnings, Bing Chen, president and CEO of the world’s largest containership charterer, said the company has increased its portfolio financing program by $500 million, to $1.5 billion, and wants to expand the company’s fleet.

“We see attractive opportunities among our network of partners and remain very focused on fleet growth at the right price,” he said during a call with investment analysts. “We have ample liquidity and financial strength.”

Chen believes the container shipping industry is stabilizing and “entering a new normal market by consolidation.” He said the company will look at both new tonnage and existing ships for possible expansion, but that in the current market the company sees more attractive opportunities in the secondhand market.

Seaspan’s fleet currently comprises 112 containerships that it charters to companies including COSCO, Yang Ming, Ocean Network Express (ONE), CMA CGM, MSC, Hapag-Lloyd and Maersk.

Chen said the company has recently signed nine charter extensions with COSCO, its largest customer, and agreed to acquire a 9,600-TEU ship built in 2010 to be put on a three-year charter with ONE when the ship is delivered in April 2020. It is also going to flag a panamax containership as a U.S.-flag ship for one of its customers, which Chen said may lead to other opportunities.

Seaspan said net earnings in its third quarter ending Sept. 30, 2019, amounted to $43 million, compared to $80 million in the same period a year earlier. Revenue was also down slightly to $282.7 million, compared to $295 million in the same period a year earlier. Operating earnings in the third quarter of this year were $116.1 million, compared to $133.4 million in the same 2018 period.

The company said utilization of its 112 containerships was 99.6%, compared to 98.4% in the same period last year, reaching the highest level since the third quarter of 2011.

Peter Curtis, executive vice president at Seaspan, said containership charter rates continued to move higher, even though freight rates have softened on main line trades.

He said charter rates are being buoyed by the low number of new ships being built and solid demand for ships to move cargo on intraregional trade routes.

He also explained that IMO 2020, the requirement that ships use low-sulfur fuel or equip their ships with exhaust scrubbers by the beginning of next year, is helping support freight rates. As ships are removed from service to have scrubbers installed at shipyards or have their fuel tanks cleaned in preparation for the switch to low-sulfur fuel, overall capacity is falling by about 1%.

At the same time, asset values for containerships have dropped, creating opportunities for sale and purchase transactions.

Citing figures from Alphaliner, Curtis said the amount of new containership capacity on order is currently about 10.3% of the global fleet, far below the 60% orderbook-to-fleet ratio about a decade ago.

Asked during an analyst call if that low level of ordering would continue, Curtis noted, “There has been a maturation in the container market. We’ve come from over 150 participants to a situation where the top 10 carry 90% of global container trade.”

Carriers are more disciplined in their ordering of new ships, and they work together in vessel space-sharing agreements such as the 2M, Ocean and THE alliances, which form the backdrop to their forecasting and ship order decisions.

“The world of speculative construction and ordering is one that has gone by,” he said.

Chris Dupin

Chris Dupin has written about trade and transportation and other business subjects for a variety of publications before joining American Shipper and Freightwaves.