(Excel earnings story updated from Monday, Feb. 28.)

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Dry-bulk shipper Excel Maritime ( EXM) appeared to meet Wall Street estimates for its fourth quarter, but its stock was sliding Tuesday morning.

The company also tried to reassure investors that an industry-wide glut of newly delivered dry-bulk vessels, which has served to depress spot-market shipping rates so far this year, wouldn't sting its bottom line.

"While we expect that deliveries of new vessels in 2011 will cause some volatility in freight rates, we remain cautiously optimistic in the dry bulk market outlook based on emerging markets being the principal drivers of growth," said Excel's Chief Financial Officer Pavlos Kanellopoulos in a prepared statement.

Early in Tuesday's trading session on the New York Stock Exchange, Excel shares were changing hands at $5.13, down 9 cents, or 1.7%. The stock has lost about 7% since Jan. 1, though it has rallied off its 52-week low of $4.51, set just in early February.

Excel said its adjusted earnings came to $12 million, or 14 cents a share, in the fourth quarter, equaling the consensus forecast of eight analysts. The range of estimates, though, was all over the map, stretching from a low of 2 cents to a high of 18 cents.

The company said its adjusted profit figure excluded several items, including a $10.8 million gain from derivatives holdings and the amortization of time charters that are the legacy of an acquisition it made back in 2008. The company's similarly adjusted 2009 fourth-quarter earnings were $4 million, or 5 cents a share, Excel said.

All in, Excel's net income for the final period of 2010 was $63.6 million, or 76 cents per share.

Revenue in the fourth quarter totaled $107 million, ahead of the average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters for revenue of $104.9 million.

In the year-ago equivalent period, Excel posted net income of $81.8 million on revenue of $102.6 million.

The company said that 56% of its fleet was locked into long-term charters for 2011 -- an important data point since it expresses just how much a dry bulk freight line is exposed to the spot market, which has declined sharply since the end of 2010.

Excel management will likely strive to pull more of its ships from the spot market and fix them into long-term charter contracts, according to analyst Omar Nokta, of Dahlman Rose, in a note to clients Tuesday morning.

Most of Excel's fleet is made up of Panamax-size ships, according to some analyst estimates. The glut hasn't damaged rates for those vessels quite as much as Capesize ships, the largest dry-bulk freighters in the world. Also, of Excel's seven Capesize vessels, all but one are fixed under long-term contracts, earning between $25,000 and $48,000 a day. None of those ships will see their charter contracts expire this year.

Excel just took delivery of a new Capesize ship in January, but had a charter agreement covering its services already in place. The daily rate is $28,000 a day, Excel said, well above the going spot-market fee. According to the Baltic Exchange, a London-based ship broker that tracks rates, Capesize vessels continued to weaken, fetching about $4,500 a day on average on the spot market as of Monday, down nearly 30% from a week ago. On Tuesday, the figure inched up to about $4,600.

The going rate for a Panamax vessel was about $14,600 a day, according to the Baltic Exchange. That's down about 8% from a week ago.

In his research note, Dahlman Rose analyst Nokta worried that weak shipping rates might put Excel's loan convenants in danger. He noted that Excel has made moves to sell ships and pay down its debt -- leverage the company had taken on in 2008 to acquire a fleet of ships.

Nokta maintained his hold rating on the stock "due to uncertainties that lie ahead for dry bulk and Excel."

Excel also said in its fourth-quarter press release Monday that one of its directors, Lefteris Papatrifon, resigned "in order to pursue his own private activities."

Most of the rest of the dry-bulk sector has reported earnings already, including Diana Shipping ( DRYS), which surpassed estimates, and Genco Shipping & Trading ( GNK), which missed.

DryShips ( DRYS), which has transformed itself into more of an energy-services play than a dry-bulk shipper, will report later this month. The company hasn't yet set a date.

-- Written by Scott Eden in New York


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