Wilbur Ross, the billionaire investor in struggling industries, raised $100 million to buy ships hauling coal, iron ore and grains, betting that accelerating growth in emerging markets will boost trade.
WL Ross & Co. and its partners ordered four Ultramax vessels with options for four more, Ross said by phone today. He declined to name the other investors in the venture, Nautical Bulk Holdings Ltd. The ships will be delivered in 2015 by China’s Jiangsu Hantong Ship Heavy Industry Co.
The 65,000 deadweight-ton ships will have fuel-efficient designs and be equipped with their own cranes, allowing them to collect and unload cargoes in less-developed ports, Ross said. The company may buy more ships, he said. Ross’s company also has stakes in tankers that haul refined fuels and liquefied petroleum gas. Private equity firms invested $4.32 billion in shipping so far this year, the most since at least 2008, according to Marine Money, an industry researcher and publisher.
“Since we think a lot of the demand for dry commodities is going to develop in the emerging markets, we think they’re well-suited to that,” Ross said by phone. Shipping rates will recover by the time the new ships are built, he said.
The Baltic Dry Index, a measure of costs to ship iron ore, coal and grains, more than doubled to 1,581 this year, rebounding from the lowest annual average since at least 1993, according to the Baltic Exchange, the London-based publisher of freight rates. World trade in dry-bulk commodities will expand 5 percent to a record 4.5 billion metric tons next year, estimates Clarkson Plc, the world’s largest shipbroker.
Rates slumped since 2008 as owners ordered too many ships before the global recession. Outstanding contracts for new bulk carriers equal 18 percent of the existing fleet, down from as much as 74 percent in 2009, according to data from IHS Maritime, a Coulsdon, England-based research company.
The cost of a new China-built Supramax, a dry-bulk vessel typically fitted with cranes and in the same size range as the ones Ross ordered, rose 5.7 percent to $28 million this year, according to Simpson, Spence & Young Ltd., the world’s second-largest shipbroker. That’s heading for the first annual gain since 2010 and the biggest since 2007.
Ship owners spent $13.1 billion on new bulk carriers as of September, compared with $9.6 billion in all of 2012, Clarkson data show. Investment in Handymaxes, also in the same size range as Ross’s Ultramaxes, more than doubled to $4.4 billion, according to the shipbroker’s figures.
The 12-member Bloomberg Dry Ships Index rallied 22 percent this year, compared with a 16 percent advance in the MSCI All-Country World Index of equities. The shipping index is still 83 percent below its 2007 record.
Ross was part of a group of investors who spent $900 million on 30 oil-product tankers in 2011. His company also has a majority stake (NVIGF:US) in Navigator Holdings Ltd., which controls one-third of the world’s midsize LPG carriers.
Economic growth in developing countries will accelerate to 5.1 percent in 2014 from 4.5 percent this year, compared with 3.6 percent globally, the International Monetary Fund estimates. Imports will expand 5.9 percent and exports will grow 5.8 percent, compared with 4.0 percent and 4.7 percent in advanced economies, according to the Washington-based lender.
World trade in iron ore, the biggest commodity transported by sea after crude oil, will rise 7 percent to 1.27 billion tons in 2014, with China accounting for 88 percent of the increase, Clarkson estimates. Shipments of coal used for power generation, the next-largest cargo, will advance 4 percent to 897 million tons, with Chinese and Indian demand amounting to 62 percent of the gain, data show.
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