Live export company Wellard has struck a deal to sell the world's largest purpose-built livestock vessel, the MV Ocean Shearer, for US$53 million (A$77.05m), in a bid to remedy the company's finances.
The ship will be bought by one of the largest exporters of sheep from Australia to the Middle East, Kuwaiti company Al Mawashi Limited, which trades in Australia as Kuwait Livestock Transport and Trading Company (KLTT).
Wellard executive chairman John Klepec said the Ocean Shearer was costing the company US$8m annually in principal and interest costs.
"Given our comparable-sized vessel, the Ocean Drover, has completed three times the number of voyages as the Ocean Shearer in 2019, it makes financial sense to release value and reduce debt from an under-utilised asset, adding A$15.8 million to our cash reserves," Mr Klepec said."The Ocean Shearer has been the biggest vessel in our fleet, but it has been consistently under-utilised in the current, very volatile, environment. "It has been predominately deployed in the South America-Turkey trade route, which has twice been closed suddenly, leaving Wellard with fixed financing and overhead costs, but without revenues."
Wellard has been restructuring the company's finances and selling off assets over the last two years to reduce mounting debts.
In October, the company settled the sale and lease back of the ship Ocean Swagman for US$22m, two years after selling the Ocean Outback for A$34.9m.
Wellard shares lift
News of the sale had an immediate impact on Wellard's share price. In the first two hours of trade on Thursday, Wellard shares were up more than 26 per cent to $0.058.
Built in 2016, the nine-deck, 189.5 metre-long Ocean Shearer has the capacity to carry 20,000 cattle or 75,000 sheep, or a combination of both.
The Ocean Shearer has 23,500 square metres of carrying capacity.
KLTT said it intends to deploy the vessel to transport sheep from Australia to the Middle East — a trade which has come under increasing scrutiny in the last 18 months.
$US38.4 million from the ship's sale to repay the vessel's financier and $US3.9 million to repay debt, while $US10.7 million will be retained as cash reserves and working capital.
"KLTT's purchase offer of $US53 million represents a significant de-risking of Wellard's business, and allows the company to concentrate on the three remaining more economically attractive vessels, being the Ocean Drover, the Ocean Ute and the Ocean Swagman," Mr Klepec said.
The Ocean Shearer is currently on its way to Darwin, where it will be loaded with cattle bound for Indonesia.
Live export price ending 2019 on the up
The live export price for cattle exported to Indonesia has jumped in the last few weeks, with feeder steers exported from Darwin now fetching around $3.30 a kilogram, which is up 15 cents on what has been paid for several months.
Territory Rural livestock agent Andy Gray said supply in the north was becoming tight. "A lot of cattle have gone from the Northern Territory this year," he told ABC Rural. "Everybody knows a lot of cattle have gone off the Barkly and the Victoria River District. "The steer numbers will start diminishing, so the importers and exporters will start to purchase female cattle. "I know we have orders for heifers at the present time."
Mr Gray said the $3.30 a kilogram mark was great for NT cattle producers and was a price that everyone in the supply chain "seems to be comfortable with".
He said when the price hit record levels of nearly $4 a kilogram a few years ago, it caused a lot of pain for customers at the Indonesian end.
"Will the price spike again? Quite likely," Mr Gray said. "I mean, history shows us that [the price] will kick in [during] those January and February months as cattle become more and more difficult to obtain. "Traditionally that's been because of the weather (monsoonal rains), but this year, because it's been drier and more cattle have moved earlier, the supply of cattle is diminished already."
There are three livestock ships getting loaded in Darwin in the next three days.