Commerzbank: No Plans for Firesale of Shipping Portfolio

Published Jun 26, 2013 9:58 AM by The Maritime Executive

Commerzbank on Wednesday sought to quell market speculation about a fire sale of its ship portfolio that hurt the lender's share, as the downturn in shipping intensifies.

Banks and investment funds are looking at the seizure and forced sale of ships pledged as collateral to recoup some of the loans owed to them by shipping companies as the sector enters the fifth year of one of the worst downturns on record.

Traders said worries about Commerzbank's exposure to the sector were to blame for a more than 4 percent decline in its stock earlier on Wednesday, making it the biggest decliner on the German blue-chip DAX index.

"Nothing has changed in regard to our plan to sell non-core assets. We want to reduce portfolios over time and in a way which does not destroy value," Commerzbank executive Stefan Otto, who is in charge of the Deutsche Schiffsbank unit, said in an e-mailed statement.

"There are no fire sales, this is also true of the shipping portfolio," he added.

Shares in Germany's second biggest lender pared losses following the statement to trade down 2.4 percent, while the DAX rose 1.7 percent by 1201 GMT.

At the end of December, Commerzbank's shipping portfolio was 18.9 billion euros ($247.1 billion).

In its first quarter financial report, Commerzbank showed that Deutsche Schiffsbank had a default volume of 4.6 billion euros and a non-performing-loan ratio of 25 percent on its portfolio.

European banks in particular are lending less to shipping as they shrink their balance sheets to reduce risk and as tougher regulation requires them to hold more capital, making loans less profitable.

Commerzbank, working to return to health after a government bailout in the financial crisis, has said it does not expect shipping markets to recover in 2013.

German financial regulator Bafin earlier this year asked auditors to scrutinise banks' exposure to shipping loans, sources told Reuters at the time.

Last week, top global shipping group TMT Group became the latest casualty of the downturn after it filed for bankruptcy protection, saying it was unable to restructure its debt as industry conditions deteriorated.

"The recent reports of bankruptcies and voluntary liquidation proceedings involving shipping companies have now reached levels which exceed any in recent memory," said Haco van der Houven van Oordt, partner with Dutch law firm AKD.

"Creditors are looking to protect their assets and limit their losses in the most efficient way possible," he added.

 ($1 = 0.7649 euros)

Reporting by Alexander Huebner, Edward Taylor, Jonathan Saul and Jonathan Gould; Editing by Victoria Bryan and David Cowell (C) Reuters 2013.