Monday, August 24, 2009

Hapag Decision Due Next Month as German Maritime Industry Reels

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government will decide by the end of next month whether to grant shipping line Hapag-Lloyd AG a state guarantee, Deputy Economy Minister Dagmar Woehrl said.

“The application is in and will be examined,” Woehrl told reporters in Berlin today. “A decision is to be expected in the middle or at the end of September.”

German maritime companies including Hamburg-based Hapag, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems and Wadan Yards MTW GmbH are suffering as collapsing world trade crimps demand for vessels and shipping. The government has said it’s ready to help companies provided they had a working business model before the financial crisis started.

Germany’s maritime industry is “in dire straits,” Woehrl said. “Even while there are signs of an improvement, we’re not in safe waters yet.”

Since the start of last year, orders for 54 ships have been canceled or aren’t being built due to insolvencies, Woehrl said. Not a single new container ship has been ordered since the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in September 2008, she said.

The global container market will decline more than 10 percent this year as the recession prompts consumers to rein in spending, according to a June forecast by London-based Drewry Shipping Consultants Ltd. Germany, as the world’s biggest exporter, is feeling the fallout as foreign sales slump during the first year of contraction since the 1970 birth of containerization.

Export Trade Declines

German trade will decline by 17 percent this year, possibly costing the country the title of export world champion, Woehrl said, citing DIHK industry and commerce chamber figures. Freight volumes, while expected to double by 2025, will drop in the short term as a consequence of the economic crisis, she said.

Hapag’s sales declined 24 percent in the first half and the loss before interest, tax and appreciation was 435 million euros ($622 million), compared with profit of 133 million euros a year earlier.

State-owned HSH Nordbank AG, leader of a group of lenders to cash-strapped Hapag, filed a bid for state aid on Aug. 13. TUI AG, the shipping line’s biggest shareholder, said Hapag’s government loan guarantees are worth 1.2 billion euros while the owners will give 750 million euros.

A German agreement to guarantee Hapag’s loans would echo moves in Asia, where South Korea committed 1 trillion won ($743 million) to buying ships to support local companies. Exports from China, the world’s fastest growing economy, collapsed a record 23 percent last month, according to customs data.

Maersk Results

The global recession has also cut demand for the services of Hapag rivals including A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S, the world’s largest container-vessel owner, and Neptune Orient Lines Ltd., Southeast Asia’s biggest. Copenhagen-based Maersk posted a first-half loss today as lower global consumption hurt freight volumes and cargo rates.

Woehrl said banks’ refusal to lend to yards and shipping companies remains a problem even after the government agreed to cover 90 percent of the lending risk from loans originated at state-owned development bank KfW Group.

The Economy Ministry, by assuming the role of an honest broker between banks and companies for the first time, is doing what it can to spur lending, she said.

“There are a few things we absolutely don’t understand,” Woehrl said. “We’ve done everything we can to help banks. And not only us, also the European Central Bank, which has lent 400 billion euros to 1,100 banks at 1 percent interest for a year.”

Woehrl also said the government has taken no decision yet on extending a 190 million-euro preferred loan to Wadan Yards because no final agreement has been reached over Stena Line AB taking over two ships already built by Wadan. The government already provided a 180 million-euro loan to Wadan in January.

Insolvent Wadan’s board of creditors on Aug. 17 agreed to the shipyard’s sale to Russian investor Igor Yusufov, who pledged to retain up to 1,600 of the current 2,500 employees. The sale was backed by Merkel and President Dmitry Medvedev.

Source: Bloomberg

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