German Shipping Faces Wave of Financing Problems
By Beat Balzli and Wolfgang Reuter
As recently as 2008, container ships were transporting record amounts of products across the world's oceans. Now, many German shipping companies are struggling to pay for the vessels they ordered during the boom. Their banks could be in trouble, too.
Major shipowner Bernd Kortüm and his wife were enjoying fresh snow in the Austrian ski resort of Lech last week. "The crisis is almost over," Kortüm, one of Hamburg's richest residents, said calmly, noting that things are beginning to look up for his industry. But the owner of a fleet of 102 container ships was exaggerating mightily.
Less than a year ago, Kortüm and his company, Norddeutsche Vermögen, were on the brink of collapse. Hamburg-based commercial lender HSH Nordbank had previously set aside risk reserves of close to €250 million ($338 million) to cover a credit line in the billions. "Because of the inadequate economic circumstances," the auditors of KPGM wrote, there were "acute risks of default." The lender was even threatening an extraordinary termination of loan agreements. more