The world’s leading commercial managers make the case for pools in an upturn.
Commercial management of ships is a growing business. Flexibility and an ever greater transparency brought about by technology is seeing more owners opt for pools, with many no longer viewing the strategy as a defensive move.
“Pools have always been an integral part of the shipping market providing indispensable commercial management services,” says John Michael Radziwill, chairman and CEO of C Transport Maritime (CTM), a giant in the bulker pools business. “Transparency is undoubtedly increasing as technology improves and more companies are embracing it.”
Critical mass and collaboration in a pool structure can bring about staggering amounts of information that a standalone owner may not be privy to and hence cannot act upon as easily, Radziwill argues.
“Over the last few years, pools have been improving their performance and also offer higher flexibility via reduced time commitment,” says a spokesperson for Signal Maritime.
Pankaj Khanna, the CEO of Heidmar, claims that unless an owner’s strategy is to trade period charters only, pools are the best place to trade spot.
“Pools outperform indices by a long way,” Khanna tells Splash.
Pools outperform indices by a long way
Quite so, says Sergey Simakin, the managing director of the Hanseatic Unity Handysize Pool.
“The only alternatives to pooling available to owners are either fixing an index-linked period charter and losing any direct control of their asset or growing their own fleet to become a mini-pool themselves,” he says, adding: “A small size owner will always remain exposed to the pure luck of his or her vessel being open in the right place at the right time.”
Ben Ognibene, the CEO of tanker pool Concorde Maritime, reminds readers of the great market spike recorded in 2020. Not all ships were in the right place at the right time. Some had been “stranded” on voyages or time charters fixed prior to the spike, missing great opportunities to capture high earnings.
“This is a greater risk when you are an owner of a small number of ships,” Ognibene says. A pool should have ships deployed in all the key markets, he says, with the availability of open ship days spread out, better enabling the pool to capture spiking markets.
Additionally, although the market may be very firm, voyage expenses can be excessive, Ognibene points out. For instance, today bunker prices are at record levels. Although freight may be firm, it is not collected until after the voyage ends. On long cross-hemisphere voyages, where freight can be enormous, the voyage expenses can be prohibitive – bunker costs, plus canal and port expenses.
A pool is just a tool, which can be used in a defensive and offensive mode
“With a properly funded and managed pool working capital, these higher-earning voyage opportunities can be taken without the full burden for the excessive voyage expenses falling on the owner of the particular vessel performing the voyage,” Ognibene says. Furthermore, the estimated earnings, of these higher voyages, can be distributed, in part, prior to the voyage concluding, and freight being collected, helping generate superior cash flow to pool participants.
Handling decarbonisation will be a key attribute for successful pools going forward, predicts Heidmar’s Khanna, a point picked up by the spokesperson for Signal Maritime.
“The commercial consolidation through pooling is a way to address the challenges the tanker segment is facing and will need to tackle in the near term,” the spokesperson says. For example, higher triangulation achieved through a larger fleet translates into lower CO2 emissions.
Summing up the pitch for pools, Simakin from Hanseatic Unity tells Splash: “A pool is just a tool, which can be used in a defensive and offensive mode.”
This is one of the articles from Splash’s Shipmanagement Market Report, a 72-page magazine published this month. Splash readers can access the full magazine for free by clicking here.