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Shipbuilders Are Drooling…Swire Pacific Announces Big Budget for Offshore Vessels

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May 6, 2012

HONG KONG (Dow Jones)–Swire Pacific Ltd. (SWRAY, 0019.HK) said it will spend HK$11 billion ($1.4 billion) over the next two years on building energy support vessels to tap the robust growth in global offshore oil and gas exploration activities as high fuel prices persist.

The Hong Kong-listed and -based conglomerate, whose business spans property, aviation, marine services, beverages and trading, owns a fleet of about 80 specialist vessels to support international energy exploration projects through its unlisted unit Swire Pacific Offshore Operations.

Swire Pacific Ltd. Chairman Christopher Pratt said that the HK$11 billion investment in new vessels would not only translate into a “significant increase” in the group’s assets under management, but also act as a hedge against the surging operation costs of its airline business Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. (CPCAY, 0293.HK) due to rising fuel prices.

“Probably the biggest challenge this year as we speak would have to be Cathay Pacific Airways because, pure and simple, the price of fuel is historically extremely high and … it’s very difficult,” Pratt said.

But “unlike Cathay Pacific, Swire Pacific Offshore likes a high fuel price. If oil is more expensive, people spend more money looking for it and use more of our boats,” he said.

Oil prices, which have hovered above $100 a barrel, account for more than 40% of the operation costs of Cathay Pacific, Pratt said, but this has also led to an increase in exploration and production commitments by global energy companies.

Based in Singapore, Swire Pacific Offshore has regional offices in countries including Australia, India, New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates.

Despite Swire Pacific Ltd.’s plans to expand smaller operations–marine services, beverages and trading–Pratt said Swire Properties Ltd. (1972.HK), which the conglomerate spun off in a Hong Kong listing in January, will continue to dwarf the conglomerate’s other businesses in terms of profit contributions.

The property arm, which invests in high-end commercial and residential projects in Hong Kong and has five large-scale mixed use projects in major Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai, will “actively look for new investment opportunities in China,” the chairman said.

For the year ending Dec. 31, nearly 80% of the conglomerate’s profit came from its property division. The aviation and marine services divisions respectively accounted for about 9% and 3% of the group’s profit over the same period.

-By Polly Hui, Dow Jones Newswires

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