Greek shipping magnates have converged on New York City for their version of Fleet Week. An annual conference sponsored for the last 22 years by a shipping-industry trade journal called Marine Money, the event draws its fair share of dry-bulk and tanker-company executives -- not to mention the bankers who hope to win their business. This year's meeting, in fact, is co-sponsored by the boutique investment firm Dahlman Rose, which professes to specialize in banking the raw-materials-related industries. The convention, aptly dubbed "Marine Money Week," is also seen as a dealmaking forum -- sort of the shipping-company version of the famous, and sometimes raucous, media-business confab put on by media investment-banking boutique Allen & Co. every July in Sun Valley, Idaho. (A possibly intoxicated Rupert Murdoch reputedly lost his wedding band at a Sun Valley hotel bar during last year's powwow.) But these are fraught times among the shippers. Partying may be down on their list of priorities. The conference's title this year gives an indication of what's on everyone's mind: "Liquidity, Liquidity, Liquidity." Says the Marine Money conference brochure, "The single most important key to success for a shipowner the next 12 months will be access to capital." Indeed, the shipping industry has, of course, followed the worldwide economy into deep recession. But many shipping companies added to their own woes by making ill-timed fleet-expansion moves, borrowing loads of money at the peak of the bubble in 2007 to purchase boats in a bid for outsize growth. The moves backfired after credit markets froze and the economy came to a halt last year, leaving those firms to struggle with balance sheets freighted with debt.
Thus the industry-wide desire for liquidity, and the parade of bankers at the conference offering to help shipping chiefs find it. Among the maritime luminaries converging for presentations at the swank Pierre Hotel in Midtown Manhattan are Angeliki Frangou, CEO of Navios Maritime Holdings ( NM), who also rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Monday; Bjorn Moller, head of Teekay Corp. ( TK), who appeared as a guest on CNBC Tuesday morning; Inger Klemp, chief financial officer at Frontline ( FRO); Pankaj Khanna, COO of DryShips ( DRYS); Alan Ginsburg, CFO at New York-based hometown favorite Eagle Bulk Shipping ( EGLE); Akis Tsangaris, Star Bulk Carriers's ( SBLK) CEO; Charles Fabrikan, chief of Seacor Holdings ( CKH); Anastassis Margaronis, president of Diana Shipping ( DSX); and John Wobensmith, Genco Shipping & Trading's ( GNK) CFO. A few heavy-hitters from other industries will present as well, including James Tisch, head of the Loews ( L) conglomerate, though his offshore drilling business has oil-tanker interests. Meanwhile, bankers from just about every major investment firm will give spiels of one sort or another: Goldman Sachs ( GS), UBS ( UBS), Credit Suisse ( CS), Morgan Stanley ( MS), Fortis, Citigroup ( C), Deutsche Bank ( DB), as well as all the shipping financiers, mostly out of Scandinavia, who specialize in providing the letters of credit by which the industry stays afloat -- pardon the pun. Not every company has been waylaid by the commodities slump. Others with stronger balance sheets are looking toward an eventual economic turnaround, and are attempting to position themselves to exploit it -- a risky move, to be sure, since it amounts to timing a bottom. In that vein, some news has already come out of this week's conference: Navios Maritime Holdings announced Monday ahead of its CEO's NYSE appearance that the company plans to buy four new Capesize ships, using $165 million in proceeds from a preferred-stock offering to fund the purchase. The plan would seem to indicate that Navios is preparing for a turnaround.
Navios stock was trading Tuesday afternoon at $4.05, up 40 cents, or 11%, on heavy volume. The Marine Money event officially kicks of Tuesday with all the typical conference fare: panel discussions, break-out groups, ballroom luncheon keynote addresses, cocktail hours, awards ceremonies, HELLO I AM stickers and continental breakfasts. Panel discussions include all the capital-markets topics: mergers and acquisitions, private-equity investment, public stock offerings and public debt. One session called "Commercial Bank Summit" seems the most apropos for the current times. According to the Marine Money schedule of events, the panel promises to deal with such topics as "Coping with falling asset prices" and to address the question, "Have we really survived the worst?"