Western Bulk Chartering Eyes USD 18 Mn in Equity

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  • As Starbucks CEO says chain ready to enter Italy after 35 years

Oslo-headquartered dry bulk shipping operator Western Bulk Chartering will launch an offering on February 27 to raise USD 18 million in an effort to strengthen the book equity and cash position.

The equity will be raised from the company’s existing shareholders in a private placement.

“The transaction is backed in full by a subscription and guarantee agreement from the two largest shareholders; Kistefos AS and Ojada AS,” the ship operator said.

The offering is expected to be completed by the end of March 2017.

The announcement comes on the back of the company’s financial results for 2016 which show that rate level improvements in the Atlantic basin helped Western Bulk Chartering to narrow loss for the fourth quarter of 2016.

The company posted a lower loss of USD 2.6 million in 4Q 2016, compared to a net loss of USD 7.4 recorded a quarter earlier. However, the firm suffered a full-year loss of USD 20 million in 2016, compared to a profit of USD 7.2 million recorded in 2015.

“I am pleased to see that the positive development in our margins and the operated fleet continue and that the dry bulk market has shown some signs of life again during Q4 2016, with substantial rate improvements in the Atlantic basin. This basin difference and volatility in rates increase the opportunities for the group,” Jens Ismar, Chief Executive Officer of Western Bulk Chartering, said.

Western Bulk Chartering’s operating performance improved as the net time charter (NTC) result rose from USD 0.9 million in Q3 2016 to USD 2.2 million in Q4 2016. At the same time, the firm’s operating fleet increased from 126 vessels in Q3 2016 to 132 vessels on average in Q4 2016.

The company said that 2017 has started with a continued positive trend for its operating performance, as January NTC result of USD 1.8 million was the best monthly NTC result since the beginning of 2016.

In its outlook for 2017, Western Bulk Chartering expects the market to remain challenging, but is likely to yield somewhat better average rates than in 2016. In line with the group’s improved performance during second half of 2016 and in January 2017, the operating performance is expected to be better in 2017 than in 2016, enabling the company to return to profits in 2017.

In the meantime, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s vision for the chain was largely inspired by the coffee bars he saw on his first trip to Milan more than three decades ago. But it took the company growing to about 26,000 stores in 75 countries to win the credibility he felt necessary to make the leap into the country that gave espresso to the world.

“I didn’t think we were ready to come to Italy,” Schultz told The Associated Press in an interview Monday. “I think Italy is such a special place. I am so respectful of the Italian coffee heritage and the Italian culture, and I think we had to earn that respect, opportunity, and I think over the years we got to the point that we are now ready to come.”

As he prepares to step down as CEO in April, Schultz will focus on innovation. That includes a Milan location that will open in 2018 of what he called “the quintessential Roastery” — one of the high-end shops featuring in-house roasting and complex coffee drinks. The journey of 35 years, he said, completes “my own dream and the circle of Starbucks.”

Unsurprisingly, skeptics like 70-year-old Christine Kung see Starbucks as a coals-to-Newcastle enterprise.

“We are happy the way we are,” Kung said on her way to a bar for coffee in central Milan. “We don’t need to be invaded by American scenery. We already have McDonald’s and that’s enough.”

Indeed, the entry of McDonald’s into Italy three decades ago sparked the Slow Food movement that encourages local food traditions, although it ultimately did not prevent the Golden Arches and other fast-food chains that followed from becoming part of the Italian landscape.

Still, espresso drinks are part of Italian tradition and the fabric of everyday life in a way a quick bite still is not. Italians are accustomed to “taking” an espresso standing at the bar for an average price of 1 euro, or just about a dollar, even in major cities; 1.20-1.50 euros is on par for a cappuccino.

In Italy, baristas generally make the coffee in full sight of the consumer, and hand brioche and other pastries across a glass case, often with a quip. Taking a seat in an Italian bar may incur an extra charge, especially in prime locations. There are few sugary embellishments and Wi-Fi access is spotty, at best.

It is not uncommon to see waiters with silver trays delivering coffee in porcelain cups covered with foil to neighboring business, a practice that underlies the rarity of the takeout coffee cup.

This sort of humanity attracted Schultz’s admiration on his first Milan visit. His response is to position the first Starbucks in Italy as a premium operation.

The Milan store at Piazza Cordusio will be among the early wave of up to 30 Roastery locations Starbucks says it expects to open around the world. The Milan store will launch a new partnership with an Italian partner, the Princi baker, offering deli food and baked goods. The first Roastery is in Seattle, with others announced for Shanghai, New York and Tokyo.

Besides mainstay espresso drinks, Schultz hopes customers will be attracted by specialized brewing techniques developed by Starbucks that are not typical in Italy. As in other markets, customers can take coffee out, or drink out of porcelain cups if they’re staying in. Starbucks says it hasn’t yet determined its prices.

World Maritime News with additional report from ABC