Seaspan Corporation Earnings Improve Thanks to New Vessels

By Matthew

While the macroeconomic seas were choppy during the third quarter, that volatility didn't have any impact on Seaspan's third-quarter results. Those results, which were reported late Monday night, showed strong double-digit revenue and earnings growth because Seaspan's business is driven by contracts and not macroeconomics.

A look at the numbersSeaspan reported revenue of $212.9 million, which is up 14.5% year over year. Driving this growth was the addition of two vessels to its fleet during the quarter, and seven since the start of the year, all of which are under attractive fixed-rate contracts. These new additions brought its operating fleet to 84 vessels to end the quarter. However, subsequent to the quarter's end the company took another delivery, which, when combined with its managed fleet, brought the company's total fleet up to a milestone 100 vessels. That solidifies the company's position as the largest independent owner and manager of container ships in the world.

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Another important factor driving strong revenue growth was vessel utilization, which was 99.3% during the quarter. That strong utilization, when combined with lower general and administrative expenses as well as the new additions to its fleet, drove a 20% increase in normalized earnings per share to $0.30. Meanwhile, cash available for distributionincreased21% to $117.5 million, which more than covered the $13.4 million it paid in dividends during the quarter.

A significant development worth notingSeaspan's value proposition is to offer investors a compelling dividend and compelling growth. However, to fund both, it needs open access to the capital markets, which it uses primarily to fund new additions to its fleet. During the quarter, the company was able to really open up its access after signing a Framework Cooperation Agreement with the Export-Import Bank of China for a total of up to $1 billion in export credit facilities. That access to capital gives the company significant financial flexibility to continue to fund its growth at an attractive price.

A look aheadSpeaking of growth, the aforementioned addition of an 85th vessel to its operating fleet will help drive incremental growth in the fourth quarter. Further, the company has a dozen more vessels under construction, which should be delivered over the next two years.

That embedded growth aside, the question that remains is how much growth the company has beyond that current newbuild fleet. China, which drives a significant amount of container-ship trade, has noticeably slowed its growth rate. This situation is causing noticeably weaker-than-expected demand for shipping containers owned by companies such as Textainer . In its second-quarter report, Textainer CEO Phillip Brewernoted that "we have not seen a traditional peak season and remain cautious about container demand during the second half of the year." That near-term weakness noted by container owners could mean that container shipping companies hold off on signing long-term contracts for new shipping vessels, or the recontracting of vessels up for renewal, with Seaspan. This decision could mute its future growth potential, as well as potentially ding its utilization rate.

Investor takeawaySeaspan continues to benefit from the incremental addition of new vessels to its fleet, which is driving revenue and earnings growth. With a number of newbuild vessels on the way, it has locked up growth for the next two years. Further, with its new credit facility, it has the access to capital to continue to fund new additions its fleet. The only question that remains is whether that growth will continue to materialize, given the slowdown in shipping container demand at the hands of China's slowing economy.

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Matt DiLallo owns shares of Textainer Group andhas the following options: short November 2015 $22.5 puts on Seaspan. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Textainer Group. The Motley Fool recommends Seaspan. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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