Ten Years for T.E.N. at the NY Stock Exchange
This year marks the 10th anniversary for Tsakos Energy Navigation Ltd. (TEN) at the New York Stock Exchange and its 20th as a public company, since it was first listed in the Oslo Stock Exchange, back in 1993. Speaking with NEO magazine Nikolas Tsakos, President and Chief Executive Officer of TEN, says that the company “fared respectably” during the last turbulent years for the industry and the international economy and he looks forward to new and creative challenges. Regarding the crisis in Greece, the maritime sector of which has traditionally been its most important industry (surpassed perhaps by tourism in recent years), he pointed to the fact that shipowners have agreed to contribute $850 million in aid voluntarily. He also believes that Greeks and Cypriots will retake seafaring as a solid professional option not only for the money opportunities but for the exposure to new things and the extrovert attitude that entails, two key elements that Greece needs. He is optimistic that the country will eventually recover andwill come back stronger but everybody has to help, including Greek Americans and the rest of the diaspora.
TEN celebrated this year its 10th Anniversary at the New York Stock Exchange, a great feat for a Greek company. Congratulations. How would you evaluate this experience so far?
Indeed the company has been listed on the NYSE for ten years but in fact it’s been public for twenty, since its inception in 1993. The first listing was on the Oslo Stock Exchange, in the early nineties, the only international exchange with some maritime flavor, with the aim of offering to the public a tanker investment vehicle conforming to the changing needs of the industry at that time due to the introduction of the “double-hull” design in tankers. Τhis regulation intensified the need for fresh capital in the industry and the public markets provided the best platform to unlock previously untapped funds and to introduce the public to an industry, not on the radar screen of many despite being the lifeline of world trade and everyone’s very existence. In a way, at the beginning we felt like the 12 Apostles preaching the Gospel to the yet unconverted masses!
Over these twenty years as a public company, we’ve had invaluable experience in the sense that the company, venturing back then into largely unchartered waters, managed to integrate successfully to a new way of life and use the public market to raise over $550 million in new funds and expand the fleet, almost exclusively through new buildings, from 4 vessels in 1993 to 50 today, ranging from modern product tankers, crude tankers, two shuttle tankers and two LNG carriers.
All-in-all, the public markets are a way of life only to be accessed by those with long term growth aspirations and willing to be subjected to public scrutiny and occasional criticism, mostly constructive. If such intention is lacking, a trip into such terrain, just to follow a trend, could render unpleasant results as we have seen in recent years.
The last few years have been tough for the maritime industry. How did you fare and what are the prospects for the future?
The shipping industry in general has been going through one of the longest troughs in recent memory that started with the global recession in 2008 and exaggerated by the over-supply of tonnage as these economies started to turn in 2010. Today, with the world economy back on track and with Europe seemingly turning the corner, we believe that the worst is behind us and we should soon begin to emerge from the doldrums. With the supply situation in tankers steadily waning, we are confident that a sustained recovery both in terms of freight and asset prices is not far. Material improvement in product tankers over the last 12 months substantiates our expectations.
As a company we have managed to fare respectably over these challenging periods as our policy from the outset, apart from chartering our vessels in medium-to-long term time charters, was cash accumulation and preservation. A substantial cash buffer has enabled us not only to meet our debt obligations, when many of our peers have stumbled, but also to maintain a healthy dividend to our shareholders and venture into new and lucrative territories like LNG and offshore shuttle tankers. Shipping is highly cyclical and if there is anything we pride ourselves at, over our twenty years of existence, is our ability to navigate successfully through…choppy waters.
Has the crisis in Greece affected the Greek maritime industry and in what ways?
The crisis has psychologically affected all of us no matter the industry and no matter where one stands on the corporate ladder. With that in mind, the Greek maritime industry, a main contributor to the Greek economy, needs to remain a solid bedrock in the foundations of the Greek State, and assist the country overcoming this difficult period the soonest possible. A proof of that has been the recent agreement between the Union of Greek Shipowners and the government whereby owners, no matter the flag on the vessel, agreed to contribute $100 million to the budget immediately and up to $185 million per annum over the next four years. Close to $850 million in aid. A significant voluntary contribution by any stretch.
Like you, TEN is a very cosmopolitan company and that’s the nature of seafaring. Do you see a similar attitude on behalf of Greeks and Cypriots as perhaps the only realistic way out this mess?
It certainly offers an alternative to young, motivated and ambitious people to seek a future outside the strict and perhaps oversaturated confines of the mainland. They will have an opportunity to enter an industry that is one of the largest and healthiest parts of the Greek economy, they will learn new disciplines that could help them later in the career, perhaps as executives in the offices of the company, they will get to travel the world, learn of new cultures, expand their horizons and earn salaries that could be multiples of what one can earn in an average public sector position. Unfortunately, up until recently, seafaring did not really feature high on the list of young Greeks and Cypriots when considering their careers. Hopefully now with the crisis well into our lives, this could entice them to focus more on seafaring and view it as an exciting and well rewarding opportunity, previously overlooked.
If I’m not mistaken your ships carry the oil we need in the entire country (USA) for a month! That’s a great service to our economy which largely goes unnoticed particularly by the “man on the street”. What do you say on that?
Our ships in 2012 carried 355 million barrels of oil which equates to 45 days of current US imports or to put it in a more global context 4 days of world oil consumption. So yes, our company, which is one of the largest independent transporters of liquid energy in the world, plays a very material, even though understated, role in the world economy. Being a public company particularly on a US exchange (NYSE) we believe that we have made great strides in putting our industry on the map and we feel that people today are a little more appreciative and understanding of who we are and what we do and how we assist them in their every day lives, without them noticing!
A message to the Greek-American community.
The Greek-American community has been a pillar of Hellenism for generations and a conduit of constant support to the country in good and bad times. Greece today is going through a painful but much needed transition period and the country needs all the support it can get from all corners of the world. The Greek-American community should continue to be on the forefront of this struggle and I am sure with their vision and support, moral and otherwise, Greece will eventually overcome the pain and stand again proudly on its own two feet.NEO’s Athens Desk, Margarita Vartholomeou, contributed to this interview.