Curious George has done it again. Just when you think he's backed himself into a corner with no possible means of escape, along comes the familiar man in the yellow hat to pull him from harm's way.
Conjuring the nickname ascribed to him in a Forbes Magazine article last year, DryShips (Nasdaq: DRYS ) CEO George Economou appears to have been spared some of the worst-case scenarios that loomed over his company's shares. Among the first to bat in reporting earnings for the dry bulk sector, the shipper surpassed expectations for both revenue and profit.
Still, the fact that analysts anticipated something worse than a 97% cut to net earnings per share speaks volumes about the perfect storm that battered the sector ... and the horrific plight of DryShips in particular.
Enough about George
Today's story isn't so much about Curious George, as it is about the mysterious, unnamed man beneath the wide-brimmed yellow hat. The hat, it turns out, is transferrable, and over recent months a cast of characters has donned the disguise and bailed George out of harm's way.
The first character was the reluctant creditors. Faced with a catch-22 of deteriorating credit worthiness and borrowings that were too big to fail, a series of creditors amended debt covenants and renegotiated loan terms, buying the shipper time to get its financials in order.
Next to sport the yellow fashion faux pas were the scores of storm-battered shareholders for whom George had shown little regard in the past, with comments like this one (noted by Motley Fool CAPS member abitare in mid-2008 and quoted in this Fool article). Time and time again, dilutive share offerings have exploded the share count by a factor of five over the past year.
Who wears the hat today?
Lately, the yellow hat has been spotted leaping from head to head on a stiff breeze of stimulus spending and recovery hopes. Moving to stockpile vast quantities of natural resources, China has helped to fuel a minor resurgence in dry bulk demand that permitted DryShips to lock in 87% of shipdays through 2010, which yields $1.6 billion in fixed EBITDA over the next 2.5 years. It's worn by ArcelorMittal (NYSE: MT ) as the steelmaker restarts some idled capacity in Europe, and miners like BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP ) and Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE: CLF ) ... in turn supplying pan-Asian steelmakers like POSCO (NYSE: PKX ) .
Hang up that hat, Fools! After that string of unforgettable misadventures, DryShips is suitable only as a barometer of the times. In my Foolish opinion, Diana Shipping (NYSE: DSX ) remains a superior choice for dry bulk, and Transocean (NYSE: RIG ) offers safer exposure to the drillships market.