Digging into the Past – Ship Finance – From Handshake to ‘Shareholder Value’ – Part II/II (26 July 2019)

Following last week’s description of shipping finance in eighteenth century Greece:

Shares versus Loans

The loan carried a yearly interest rate of about 30% and was to be repaid provided the vessel was not lost. The shareholders’ pay-off depended on the profit remaining after the payment of interest and other expenses. Half of the profit would go to the crew (no fixed wages were paid) and the other half to the shareholders. The shareholders’ income would thus depend on the charter rates the vessel would get. And thus their participation was riskier than a straightforward loan, whose return would be independent of the charter rates. Some investors, usually the wealthier ones, were willing to undertake these risks to their entirety while others wanted to reduce it. Thus, if an investor entered 50% of his funds in the vessel and the rest in a loan, he was better off in case the return on the vessel was below 30% and worse off otherwise. This reduced the variation of the investment return. The high interest rates for the loans were due to the high dangers at sea. At the end of the eighteenth century, a ship loss in the eastern Mediterranean Sea was calculated to be about 15-20% so the average vessel age was in a range of 5-7 years.

Developing Situation

The situation changed with the increased investment required for a steamer ship. The necessary capital could no longer be raised nearby and the merchants resorted to the London capital market or other financial centres. In the beginning of the steamship era, the captains did not have a controlling interest but as their know-how for running steamships increased, several captains bought out the other partners and became controlling owners. This structure of a shipping firm is the norm in contemporary shipping where every vessel is a separate company with a leading partner, several other partners and considerable bank financing. Of course, shipping loans today are not written off in case the ship is lost, and the development of the specialized insurance market has fundamentally changed the nature of risk into a financial factor rather than a physical one.

But in general, it can be stated that from the beginning of financing on all parties involved (merchant-owners, investors, accountants and notaries) indirectly show an understanding of the risk return tradeoffs and try, through several financing alternatives, to apportion the risks in an equitable way

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