Expect a Rough Ride on the Baltic Sea

Like the Sea Shepherd's crew before she rams a Japanese whaler, the world's dry bulk shipping industry continues to brace for impact.

Ahead, off the bow, lies a massive oversupply of new vessels due to join the global fleet ... and not even the seemingly insatiable demand for bulk goods for import into China and India appears sufficient to absorb the gargantuan glut.

Into this highly uncertain and likely volatile business environment steams a new IPO launched by Genco Shipping & Trading (NYSE: GNK  ) . Shares of Baltic Trading (NYSE: BALT  ) drifted onto the Big Board on Wednesday at the low end of its targeted pricing range between $14 and $16 per share. With about $228 million raised through the offering, and $75 million in seed money from Genco, Baltic Trading will embark upon a shopping spree to acquire two new Capesize vessels and four new-ish (let's call them "pre-owned") Supramax vessels by October.

With the stated intention of operating these ships within the spot market, which is subject to the whims of a highly unpredictable and volatile Baltic Dry Index, I suspect that shareholders may find the ride a little rough compared to those investment vehicles relying more heavily upon time charter to smooth out the seas. On the other hand, coming from a company whose CEO once criticized DryShips (Nasdaq: DRYS  ) CEO George Economou and others of playing "games with their shareholders' money," I believe that Genco is very serious about steering this venture into profitability.

Although Baltic Trading is the first dry bulk IPO since the perfect storm first gathered steam, Genco is hardly the first shipper to brave the waters with an acquisitive initiative. In addition to targeting more than $500 million in vessel purchases over the next two years, conservative operator Diana Shipping (NYSE: DSX  ) formed an unexpected $50 million venture to purchase containerships. Eagle Bulk Shipping (Nasdaq: EGLE  ) linked up with private capital to form its own acquisitive venture: Delphin Shipping.

Both Delphin Shipping and Baltic Trading are incorporated in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a corporate and maritime registry operated on behalf of the small Pacific-island nation by a company in Reston, Va. The vessels they acquire are therefore entirely likely to carry the same flag, which can be a factor in reducing vessel operating costs. They don't call it a "flag of convenience" for nothing. Diana Shipping, Navios Maritime Holdings (NYSE: NM  ) , DryShips, and Genco are likewise registered (or "domiciled") in the Marshall Islands.

Some brave Fools will no doubt climb aboard Baltic Trading as it gets under way, but I believe they must be prepared for the kind of near-term uncertainty that has characterized the likes of DryShips and Excel Maritime Carriers (NYSE: EXM  ) . Unlike those heavily debt-laden operators, however, Baltic Trading embarks with a clean slate. Set a course for adventure: destination unknown.

Take our Motley Poll then scroll down to the comments section and let me know what you really think.

The Dry Bulk Shipping tag in Motley Fool CAPS lists 16 companies. Join our online community today and share your views on this bellwether sector. CAPS is free and fun!

Fool contributor Christopher Barker is a USCG-licensed captain, and has traveled to the Marshall Islands. He can be found blogging actively and acting Foolishly in the CAPS community under the user name TMFSinchiruna. He tweets. He owns shares of Diana Shipping. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy can hold its breath underwater while a cargo ship passes overhead.


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