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Star Bulk Carriers Corp. (NASDAQ:SBLK) Q4 2023 Earnings Call Transcript

Star Bulk Carriers Corp. (NASDAQ:SBLK) Q4 2023 Earnings Call Transcript February 13, 2024

Star Bulk Carriers Corp. isn't one of the 30 most popular stocks among hedge funds at the end of the third quarter (see the details here).

Operator: Thank you for standing by ladies and gentlemen. And welcome to the Star Bulk Carriers Conference Call on the Fourth Quarter 2023 Financial Results. We have with us Mr. Petros Pappas, Chief Executive Officer; Mr. Hamish Norton, President; Mr. Simos Spyrou; and Mr. Christos Begleris, Co-Chief Financial Officers; Mr. Nicos Rescos, Chief Operating Officer; and Mrs. Charis Plakantonaki, Chief Strategy Officer of the company. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. There will be a presentation followed by a question-and-answer session. [Operator Instructions] I must advise you that this conference is being recorded today. We will now pass the floor over to your speakers today. Mr. Spyrou, please go ahead, Sir.

Simos Spyrou: Thank you, operator. I am Simos Spyrou, Co-Chief Financial Officer of Star Bulk Carriers, and I would like to welcome you to our conference call regarding our financial results for the fourth quarter of 2023. Before we begin, I kindly ask you to take a moment to read the Safe Harbor statement on Slide number 2 of our presentation. In today's presentation, we will go through our Q4 results, financings and share buybacks, a short update on the ED [ph] bulk transaction, fleet development and operations, the latest on the ESG front, and our views on industry fundamentals before opening up for questions. Let us now turn to Slide number 3 of the presentation for a summary of our fourth quarter 2023 highlights. Net income for the fourth quarter amounted to approximately $40 million and adjusted net income of approximately $64 million.

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Adjusted EBITDA was $114 million for the quarter. For the fourth quarter as per our existing dividend policy, we declared a dividend per share of $0.45, with record date as of March 12, 2024. Since June 2021, we have returned to shareholders $1.1 billion in dividend distributions, and over $400 million in share buybacks. Our total cash today stands at $312 million pro forma for the delivery of our four remaining sold vessels and a payment of the respective debt, as well as the bridge facility. Meanwhile, our pro forma total debt stands at approximately $1.121 billion, translating in a pro forma net debt of approximately $800 million. On the top right of the page, you will see our daily figures per vessel for the quarter. Our time charter equivalent rate was $18,296 per vessel per day.

Our combined daily OpEx and net cash G&A expenses per vessel per day amounted to $6,081. Therefore, our TCE less OpEx and G&A is approximately $12,215 per day per vessel. Looking towards fleet renewal; in the last 12 months we have agreed to sell 17 vessels with average age of 13.7 years and received insurance proceeds from one vessel which was declared as a constructive total loss. Total gross proceeds from these vessels were $366 million. During the fourth quarter, we completed a $380 million repurchase of 20 million shares from Oaktree Capital. The shares were repurchased and subsequently cancelled. The Oaktree share buyback was funded from vessel sale proceeds of $254 million, plus $76 million of new debt financing, $13 million of proceeds from the ATM, and $38 million cash released from the minimum cost threshold of $2.1 million per vessel for the 18 vessels that have been sold.

Slide 4 graphically illustrates the changes in the company's cash balance during the fourth quarter. We started the quarter with $302 million in cash and generated positive cash flow from operating activities of $88.6 million. After including debt proceeds and repayments, CapEx payments for ESD and Ballast Water Treatment System installations, the third quarter dividend payment, the Oaktree share repurchases and ATM issuances; we arrived at a cash and cash equivalent balance of $282 million at the end of the quarter. This figure includes a $20 million adjustment as this amount was released from the vessel sales and went against the financing of the Oaktree share buyback. Slide 5 illustrates a summary of the recently announced Eagle Bulk transaction.

We have been working closely, we figured our team and our lawyers to be able to complete the merger in early April 2024. This transaction will create a global leader in dry bulk shipping with a large diversified and scrubber-fitted fleet of 167 vessels. This is a low stock transaction on NAV-to-NAV basis, with a combined market cap of approximately $2.6 billion. Eagle shareholders will receive 2.6211 shares of Star Bulk per share of Eagle. Star Bulk shareholders will own approximately 71%, and Eagle’s shareholders will own approximately 29% of the combined entity. Since the deal was announced, we filed with the SEC, an F4 registration statement with respect to the shares of Star Bulk common stock based to Eagle shareholders pursuant to the Eagle merger agreement which became effective on February 12, 2024.

The Board of Directors of Eagle fixed February 12, 2024 as the record date for the determination of Eagle shareholders entitled to receive notice of, and vote at the Eagle special meeting. The Eagle special meeting will be held on April 5, 2024. Subject to Eagle shareholder approvals and customary closing conditions, we expect that the Eagle merger will close shortly thereafter. I will now pass the floor to our COO, Nicos Rescos, to talk about our operational performance and then update on our fleet renewal and CapEx update.

Nicos Rescos: Thank you, Simos. Let's turn to Slide 6 where we provide an operational update. Operating expenses excluding non-recurring expenses were up $4,977 for Q4 2023. Net cash G&A expenses were $1,104 per vessel per day for the same period. In addition, we continue to rate at the top amongst our listed peers in terms of Rightship safety score. Please turn to slide 7 for an update on our fleet sales and our recent newbuilding orders. In December, we entered into a contract for additional three firms shipbuilding contracts with Qingdao Shipyard with the construction of 82,000 Kamsarmax newbuilding vessels at competitive price levels having increased the size of our order from two to five vessels. The vessels are being built in China to high specification using the latest fuel efficient engine coming into production in 2024.

Our shaft generator reducing the energy requirements while vessel is at sea, and now turned to marine power provisions. The above measures ensure best-in-class fuel consumptions and emissions. On the vessel sales front, we continue disposing of vessels opportunistically at historically attractive levels, having agreed during Q4 to sell 7 vessels for total gross proceeds of $122 million, reducing our average fleet age and improving overall fleet efficiency. During Q1, we agreed to sell another two Capesize vessels, the Big Bang and the Pantagruel for total gross proceeds of $36.3 million. Furthermore, we took delivery of 2 out of the 6 long-term chartering Eco vessels that will be delivered to us throughout 2024. And specifically, a tenacious [indiscernible] Kamsarmax and a tenacious Star Bulk Ultramax.

Considering the aforementioned changes in our fleet mix, we operate one of the largest dry bulk fleets amongst U.S. and European listed peers with 122 vessels on a fully delivered basis with an average age of 10.5 years. Slide 8 provides a fleet update and some guidance around our future dry bulk and available total of 5 days. In the top right of the page we provide a CapEx schedule illustrating our new building CapEx and vessel energy efficiency upgrade expenses with 100% of our fleet now being ballast water treatment systems fitted. Our expected dry dock expense for 2024 is estimated $20.5 million for the dry docking of 40 vessels. In total, we expect to have approximately 950 of five days [ph] for the same period. Based on our latest construction schedule, our newbuilding vessels are expected to be delivered in Q4 2025, Q2 and Q3 2026.

In line with the EEXI and CII regulations, we will continue investing in upgrading our fleet with the latest operational technologies available, aimed in improving our fuel consumption and reducing our environmental footprint, further enhancing the commercial attractiveness of the Star Bulk fleet. Regarding our Energy Saving Devices program, we have completed and tested retrofits of 31 vessels with 16 more to follow for retrofit by the end of 2024. The above numbers are based on current estimates around dry dock, the rate of planning, vessel employment and yard capacity. Finally, we are working together with Eagle management towards a seamless integration of the ship management platforms from April 2024 onwards, should the merger receive shareholder approval.

A hugh vessel carrying hundreds of containers passing by a small fishermen boat.
A hugh vessel carrying hundreds of containers passing by a small fishermen boat.

I'll now pass the floor to our Chief Strategy Officer, Charis Plakantonaki, for an ESG update.

Charis Plakantonaki: Thank you, Nicos. Please turn to slide 8, where we highlight our continued leadership on the ESG front. Star Bulk along with four other leading ship owners in Greece have joined the Loads Register Foundation in establishing the maritime Emissions Reduction Center in Athens based non-profit organization. The center, we support the development and adoption of new and existing solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of the global fleet, while fostering the collaboration among maritime value chain stakeholders to safely navigate to net zero. For a third year in a row, Starbuck has participated in the carbon disclosure project, maintaining its score of fleet, which indicates a maturity of management level or taking coordination action on climate issues.

This call placed Star Bulk above the industry average of mining [ph], and also above the global average of sea which indicates awareness level. On the regulatory front, Star Bulk has taken all necessary measures to prepare for and ensure compliance with the inclusion of shipping in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, which came into force on January 1, 2024. We have also prepared to timely align our ESG reporting with the EUs Corporate Sustainability reporting directive, which will apply for the first time in the 2024 financial years for reports published in 2025. Due to fall 2023, we continued enhancing our employee engagement and wellbeing programs, increasing the retention rates of our [indiscernible]. With regard to regulations, Star Bulk is continuing to invest in new systems, technologies, policies and training to strengthen its communications in cybersecurity, including the deployment of high bandwidth internet and next-generation firewalls on board in live phase [ph].

In December 2023, Star Bulk was granted the Sustainability Award at the Annualized Greek Seating [ph] Awards. I will now pass it over to our CEO, Petros Pappas for a market update and his closing remarks.

Petros Pappas: Thank you, Charis. Please turn to slide 10 for a brief update of supply. During 2023, a total of 35.3 million deadweight was delivered and 5.4 million deadweight was sent to demolition for a net fleet growth of 29.9 million deadweight or 3.1% year-over-year. Furthermore, 42.8 million deadweight were placed during the year when newbuilding order books presently standing at the still low level of 8.5% of the fleet. Limited shipyard capacity until late-2026. high shipbuilding costs and future green propulsion uncertainty are keeping new orders under relative control. Furthermore, vessels above 20 years and 15 years of age, stand at 8.5% and 20.6% of the fleet, respectively. While scrap prices have stabilized at elevated levels and to make demolition above weight and energy in efficient tonnage and more attractive option during seasonal downturns over the next years.

During the second half of the year, the average steaming speed of the dry dock fleet decreased to a new low of 10.95 knots due to downward pressures from inflated bunker costs and new environmental regulations. We expect the EEXI CII regulations to increasingly incentivize slow steaming retrofits and to help moderate supply over the next several years. Global port congestion adjusted lower over the last two years, and we expect that it will follow seasonal patterns from now on. In the short term, the combination of draught in Panama and Red Sea tensions has led to a major decrease of canal transits and is causing inefficiencies that organically [ph] mitigated by the seasonal market weakness. As a result of the above trends, nominal fleet growth is unlikely to exceed 2.5% per annum over the next few years.

Let's now turn to slide 11 for a brief update of demand. According to Clarkson's total dry bulk trade during 2023 is estimated to have expanded by 4.4% in turn miles. Trade volumes during the fourth quarter increased by 6.2% year-over-year, supported by record coal and iron ore exports and recovery of minor bulk trade, while stronger Atlantic exports and inefficiencies have benefited from miles. China dry bulk imports increased by 12.2% despite weak macro sentiment and a struggling property sector. Gradual stimulus measures over the last year, heavy investment on infrastructure and manufacturing, and higher exports have provided support for raw materials demand. On the other hand, dry bulk imports from the rest of the world declined by 2% as demand during the first half of 2023 was affected by high energy and food costs related to the war in Ukraine and tightening monetary policy by Western economies in the efforts to fight inflation.

During 2024, dry bulk demand is projected to increase by 1% in terms with the IMF upgrading it’s global GDP growth forecast to 3.1%. The Chinese economic recovery from zero COVID policy is still at early stages and is expected to accelerate once the property market stabilizes and consumer confidence returns. Demand from the rest of the world is experiencing a strong recovery since September supported by decline in energy, food and borrowing costs. Meanwhile, the years started with ton miles receiving strong support, but geopolitical and canal inefficiencies. Iron ore trade expanded by 6.2% during 2023 and is projected to contract by 0.4% during 2024. China crude steel production increased by 0.9% during 2023 after two consecutive years of contraction, supported by inflated steel product exports.

Domestic iron ore output and stockpiles are moving higher, but still stands well below last year's levels. Crude steel production from the rest of the world declined by 1.2% during 2023 as the first half was affected by high energy costs and weak margins. Having said that, steel prices [ph] next China experienced a strong recovery during the fourth quarter and is expected to remain strong throughout 2024. Coal trade expanded by 6.9% during 2023 and is projected to contract by 1.4% during 2024. Global focus on energy security is inflated cold trade while the sampling of Russian exports has benefited ton miles. Chinese imports surged by an impressive 61% compared to 2022. As thermal electricity increased by 6.4%, hydropower contracted by 4.9%.

And domestic coal production growth was limited to 4.3%. India is emerging as a leading coal importer with electricity demand currently outpacing domestic coal production growth and stockpiles at relatively low levels. Grains trade contracted by 0.6% during 2023, and is projected to be down by 2.9% during 2024. Grain trade was affected by the increase of experts from Argentina, the U.S. and Ukraine, while Brazil experienced record soybean and corn seasons that helped fill the gap. Falling prices of agricultural commodities, better crop yields in North and South America, the recovery of Ukrainian volumes and increased demand from emerging economies are expected to inflate grain trade over the next years. Moreover, Panama Canal constraints this year will inflate on miles as historically 25% of U.S. exports are moving through the canal.

Minor bulk trade expanded by 3.7% during 2023 and is projected to expand by 3.9% during 2024. Minor bulk data has the highest correlation to global GDP growth and is supported by COVID [ph] global macroeconomic fundamentals. Atlantic steel shortages continue to incentivize Pacific exports and inflate backhaul trades. Furthermore, expanding West Africa bauxite exports generates long-term miles for capsize vessels with Guinea exports up 24% during 2023. As a final comment, the outlook for dry bulk market remains positive due to favorable supply dynamics, geopolitically driven inefficiencies in trade, and a recovery of demand supported by large global infrastructure investment needs for the world's [indiscernible]. Star Bulk expects to take advantage of variation strength in the dry bulk market, having mostly maintained this diverse scrubber fitted fleet in the stock market and will thus continue to create value for its shareholders.

Without taking any more of your time, I will now pass the floor over to the operator to answer any questions you may have.

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