Many thanks Robert for giving us time to talk today, it is much appreciated. The coronavirus pandemic has impacted all of our lives, almost without exception. Are you able to give us some insight on how you think it might specifically affect the shipbroking industry in the future?
Essentially, we believe the most challenging aspect for all ship brokerages (as well as any company, for that matter) in the current environment is trying to see to it that our families and staff stay healthy to the extent we have any control. So far two of our staff members have suffered through and recovered from the Virus.
Unfortunately, among close friends and extended family, many of us have lost someone we dearly cared about. In terms of the prevailing business environment, we are dealing with a whole new set of logistics where we and all our clients are working remotely. In addition, there are the difficulties of arranging inspections and deliveries in terms of travel restrictions for surveyors and crews, including the threat of quarantines, not to mention the volatility in most market segments.
That being said, we still have been very fortunate to have arranged a number of international transactions for bulk carriers, tankers, offshore support vessels as well as a handful of transactions in our own U.S. market.
As far as our finance arranging business goes, we are coming off a historically exceptional calendar year in 2019 where we were involved in funding or arranging future committed funding for approximately 50 marine assets in the U.S. domestic and international markets. We did not expect 2020 to be as prolific but expect during the first half the results will be around 15 funded vessels.
Since the onset of COVID-19 here in the United States our funding sources have taken a step back from looking at shipping assets to better try to determine the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the world economy. Today, we are getting a sense that our funding sources are starting to ease some of their original fears and will shortly be willing to consider some projects which we hope will translate into workable proposal letters for our marine clients to consider.
However, the landscape around cost of funds has changed and we will have to go through a process with our funding sources and clients on price discovery. We expect for our investment grade clients that the increase of funding cost will not have widened significantly but for our non-investment grade rated credits we do expect a significant widening of spreads which may prove difficult to swallow. We hope and expect that this widening in the cost of funds will ease somewhat over the coming months, but have no idea where this will settle.
To answer your question as to how the COVID-19 virus will affect the shipbroking industry, I would like to refer you to one of my favorite quotes which I consider the foundation of the principles under which Pierot has operated since its inception, which is: “The more things change, the more they stay the same”. I think that beyond our basic tenet as ship brokers (“Our Word is our Bond”), this quote best reflects our philosophy toward our business practice through all the ups and downs of the shipping markets over the past 125 years.
As a firm, we have always been at the ready to assist and support our clients with opportunities as they present themselves and with what we like to think is sound advice (when asked for it…), always to the best of our abilities, no matter the circumstances, be it World Wars, stock market collapses, political unrest, great economic expansions -and contractions-, the inevitable Boom & Bust cycles and Yes, even during pandemics (1918 and expectedly 2020). We manage to find certain vantage points that afford us a view of the situation as a whole and then come up with solutions to facilitate the continuance of our practice and the offering of our services.