Tycoon Fredriksen’s Firms See Diverging Fortunes

West Gemini drillship. Photo credit: Seadrill
West Gemini drillship. Photo credit: Seadrill

ReutersBy Gwladys Fouche

OSLO, Nov 24 (Reuters) – Firms in Norwegian-born billionaire John Fredriksen‘s empire saw contrasting fortunes on Tuesday, as rig firm Seadrill booked $1.8 billion in writedowns while tanker firm Frontline turned around its fortunes after years of turmoil.

 Dynasties of the Sea
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The shipping tycoon, nicknamed “Big Wolf” or “Big John” in the shipping industry, controls companies spanning offshore drilling, shipping of oil and dry bulk and salmon farming.

Seadrill, in which Fredriksen owns a 24.17 percent stake, booked $1.8 billion in non-cash impairment charges and goodwill on Tuesday, hurt by oil firms curbing exploration due to low crude prices, and warned of a tough market in 2016.

It posted better-than-expected third-quarter core earnings of $546 million, but said it would continue to cut costs by $600 million in 2015, up from a previous aim of $500 million, and would find savings of $200 million in 2016.

Seadrill, the second-largest offshore driller after Transocean, has not paid dividends over the past year to preserve cash.

“We think the positives weigh more than negatives, but would sell on strength as the market is still bad,” Carnegie analyst Johan Stroem said in a note to clients.

Seadrill shares are down by 62 percent over the past year and by 82 percent from an all-time high hit in September 2013. They were up 1.68 percent to 54.30 crowns at 1219 GMT, beating an Oslo benchmark index down 0.71 percent, on the better-than-expected profit and the cost savings.

The situation was worse for Golden Ocean , Fredriksen’s dry bulk shipper.

Slower coal and iron ore demand from China – the world’s biggest industrial importer – have battered the dry bulk sector, already in the midst of its worst ever downturn.

Golden Ocean reported a larger-than-expected third-quarter loss of $41 million and said its focus in the coming months was to improve its liquidity and balance sheet as it expected the market to be challenging for the next 6-12 months.

“It is unfortunately going in the wrong direction. What is unclear is how they will finance their new-build (ships). They have 19 that are not financed,” said Clarkson Platou Securities analyst Frode Moerdedal.

Golden Ocean shares were nevertheless up 1.85 percent on expectations it would be able to find a financial solution that did not involve a share issue.

The bright spot was an improvement in the fortunes of Frontline, the world’s largest private oil tanker firm, which has seen its share price fall 40 percent over the past year as it struggled with a glut of tankers hitting the market at a time of falling world demand.

The firm swung to an operating profit of $19.3 million in the third quarter from a loss of $37.5 million a year earlier, driven by high demand for cheap oil.

This had led to congestion in key ports, creating more demand for tankers, the company said.

Frontline said it would resume paying quarterly dividends as early as next month, after its planned merger with Frontline 2012, that would be equivalent to, or close to, the combined company’s earnings per share, adjusted for non-recurring items.

“The dividend policy is very positive,” said analyst Moerdedal. Its shares were up 10.74 percent to 26.92 crowns.

Frontline 2012 was spun off from Frontline three years ago but Fredriksen, who made his fortune in the “tanker wars” of the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq conflict, is now merging the two tanker companies. (Additional reporting by Ole Petter Skonnord and Stine Jacobsen; Editing by Terje Solsvik, Jason Neely and Adrian Croft)

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