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Analyst Warns on Dry Bulk Stocks

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- A host of dry-bulk shipping companies will face a credit crunch unless they can rework their balance sheets, according to one shipping-equities analyst.

With the rates that dry bulkers charge for their services having plunged to levels not seen since the financial crisis, Omar Nokta, an analyst at Dahlman Rose in New York, issued a grim industry research note Monday, suggesting that any light at the end of this tunnel is difficult to see. The dry-bulk market may not fully recover until 2015, Nokta warned.

If this forecast is accurate, the dry-bulk market seems to have entered a full-on depression, which will have serious repercussions on the balance-sheet health of a slew of companies.

As such, Nokta downgraded five stocks in the sector: Genco Shipping & Trading (GNK), Eagle Bulk Shipping (EGLE), Navios Martime Partners (NM), Paragon Shipping (PRGN) and FreeSeas (FREE). He cut his rating on each stock to hold from buy.

Right now, if a shipping company hires out a Capesize vessel on the spot market, the fee it collects is less than what it costs to operate the ship. How much less? According to the Baltic Exchange, the London ship broker that tracks the dry-bulk spot market, the average rate for a Capesize ship has fallen to just below $5,000 a day. Shipping pros says that it costs between $7,000 and $10,000 to operate this type of craft, the largest ocean-going dry bulkers in the world, designed to haul iron ore.

Basically, the more debt a dry-bulk shipper has, the more bearish its outlook. Companies that levered up to expand their fleets have covenants in their loan deals. For example, companies need to post certain earnings numbers to stay in the good graces of their creditors.

Most publicly traded shipping companies hire out their fleets under long-term charter contracts with mining companies and others. Many of those deals are close to the end of their terms, Nokta wrote, and when the ships come off charters that had been paying well above the spot rate, earnings will inevitably fall, and covenants will be in danger.

Similarly, because of the collapse in rates, ship values have declined sharply, which could also violate loan covenants. Though Nokta expects companies to be able to renegotiate, "the resulting agreements are likely to restrict growth and limit their ability to adapt to changing market conditions," he wrote.

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