After its 2016 losses doubled to nearly $500 million, Yang Ming on Thursday suspended trading on the Taiwanese stock exchange until May 4 in an effort to reduce the carrier’s equity capital by more than 50 percent.
Two weeks ago Yang Ming reassured customers in an advisory notice that it hadn’t needed to ask vendors to modify terminal terms, much less default on its obligations to vendors. In the April 3 notice, Yang Ming pointed to how its fourth quarter loss of $64 million was $89 million less than its third quarter loss, giving the carrier “a hopeful indicator of a reversal in the market.”
“We are humbled by the continued and generous support of our customers and we ask you to join us to go forward in 2017,” the carrier said. “The delivery of your shipment is guaranteed.”
Other carriers, including Maersk Line and Cosco, have reported strong pricing and volume in the fourth quarter, Despite this tailwind, Drewry expects the major carriers lost $3.5 billion in 2016, an improvement on the $5 billion in losses for the year the industry analyst had previously estimated.
Shipper concerns over the financial viability of the carriers they use has heightened after Hanjn Shipping collapsed last year. In addition to looking at balance sheets, some shippers are monitoring whether their carriers are delaying payments to suppliers, such as tugboat operators and fuel provider, or paying more for the same services, both of which can foreshadow a carrier collapse.
The company on Monday emphasized that the recapitalization was a standard procedure.
"The suspension is simply a standard procedure that is routinely carried out in the Taiwan Stock Exchange when a company implements a recapitalization as in the case of Yang Ming," the comapny said.
As part of its recapitalization plan, Yang Ming said six investors have ponied up $54.4 million total in exchange of 161.33 million shares. Taiwan’s National Development Fund of the Taiwan is taking a 6.39 percent stake in Yang Ming, giving the Taiwanese government a 36.5 percent stake in the carrier once the first round of recapitalization is complete.
Yang Ming said the deployment of additional ships with capacities of 14,000 teus will bring down slots costs and fuel savings. The carrier added that its membership in THE Alliance, involving NYK Line, MOL, “K” Line, and Hapag-Lloyd, provides customers with greater service.
“With the implementation of our cost savings strategies and recapitalization plan, and with the support from our new investors, Yang Ming is well positioned in 2017 to best served our customers’ needs. Yang Ming firmly believes that our size, strategic plans, and alliance make up our competitive advantages,” the company said in the April 3 notice.
The carrier said it would also place an emphasis on higher revenue cargo and it has already reorganized its operational flow chart to make the company more efficient.
Yang Ming was last profitable in 2013, when the carrier posted a profit of $92.2 million. As of last fall, the carrier had the most leveraged balance sheet of all the major carriers, with net gearing totaling 437 percent, according to Drewry Financial Research Services. That’s well above the industry average of 124 percent and nearly five times that of fellow Taiwanese carrier Evergreen Line.
Lawmakers in the ruling Democratic Progressive Party have suggested to the Ministry of Transportation and Communications that Yang Ming should be merged with Taiwan International Ports Corp to streamline resources and lower costs. Yang Ming’s financial challenges have reinvigorated speculation it would merge with its compatriot Evergreen; however, Yang Ming Chairman Bronson Hsieh in early November rejected that idea, saying it has no plans to do so and its partial state ownership puts mergers off the table.