Spirit of Hamburg
Photo 157834431 © Michael Williams | Dreamstime.com

In an extremely tight tonnage market, the purchase price paid for many second-hand containerships is higher than their newbuild cost.

However, Alphaliner has warned of the risk of exposure for buyers when the market eventually turns bearish.

The consultant today reported that a record 572 container vessels, for 1.94m teu, changed ownership last year, of which MSC purchased almost a quarter – 132 ships for 453,000 teu.

This enabled MSC to overtake its 2M alliance partner, Maersk, to become the world’s biggest carrier by fleet capacity.

Alphaliner said the only other carrier to get anywhere near rivalling the activity of MSC in the S&P market was CMA CGM, which snapped-up 46 ships last year for around 150,000 teu of capacity.

Their raids on the S&P market dwarfed the transactions of the major non-operating owners (NOOs), which traditionally regard the carriers as their charter market customers.

Indeed, the carriers’ strategy of buying many of the ships they already had on charter was initially seen as a defensive measure against sky-rocketing daily hire rates and much stricter terms from shipowners.

However, many of the earlier purchases have proved to be excellent investments. In fact, S&P brokers are reporting incidents of ‘flipping’, where carriers bought ships that they no longer require and are touting them at prices considerably higher than when purchased just six months or a year ago.

Alphaliner reported the sale of the 2007-built 3,752 teu Spirit of Hamburg (pictured above) to Maersk in October, for $55m. At the time, the purchase of the 14-year-old panamax by Maersk puzzled S&P brokers, they had been instructed that the carrier was “only interested in younger ships”.

However, the ship appears to be back on the market and, according to Alphaliner, “is expected to be flipped to a third party”. According to vesselsvalue.com, the current value of the Spirit of Hamburg is $61m, while recent transactions for similar ships have achieved north of $65m.

An S&P broker source told The Loadstar recently that the market was so hot that valuations were now “just a starting point.

“Any containership that comes onto the market is immediately a target for carriers and it’s usually down to which broker has a blank cheque from an owner that wins the day,” he said.

“There are very few questions on service history, and they do not seem to be put off buying the ship if it has a charter attached,” he added.

S&P brokers are still recovering from MSC’s $105m purchase of the 4,896 teu X-Press Jersey inNovember, now renamed MSC Jersey. The feeder operator sold the 2014-built post-panamax ship to its shipping line client, banking a book profit of around $80m.

However, according to vesselsvalue.com data, the ship currently has a fair market value of $86m.

Nevertheless, if MSC were to secure a similar ship on the charter market, it could be obliged to pay $80,000 a day or more – or around $30m a year  – in charter hire costs. Thus, despite arguably paying ‘over the odds’ for the ship, if the market remains firm the carrier will easily recoup the premium in savings.

Meanwhile, given the cyclical nature of the charter market, Alphaliner warns that there is a risk for buyers paying top prices for containership tonnage.

“There must be some question of carrier and NOO exposure when an eventual correction takes place,” said the consultant.

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