NORWEGIANS AIM TO ESTABLISH OSLO AS PREMIER SHIP FINANCE CENTER

NORWEGIANS AIM TO ESTABLISH OSLO AS PREMIER SHIP FINANCE CENTER

The Norwegian shipping community wants to establish Oslo as the world's premier capital market for the shipping industry.

Norway already has built up a reputation as one of the most innovative countries in the world for raising ship finance.The Oslo Stock Exchange is second only to Japan in the value of shipping shares traded, while the K/S (Komanditt Selskap) limited partnership funds have stimulated an enormous amount of interest in shipping from the Norwegian general public.

But to date activity mostly has been confined to local lenders and borrowers, a situation that Magne Haga, the president of Christiana Bank International, would like to change.

"The Norwegian business community is comfortable with shipping risk," Mr. Haga told a conference in London Thursday, whereas the London and New York equity markets are too influenced by short-term considerations.

"There's no taste for shipping in New York," Mr. Haga asserted.

Norwegians raised some $2 billion for speculative shipping ventures last year, according to Jacob Stolt-Nielsen, the chairman and chief executive of Stolt Tankers and Terminals (Holdings) SA.

But in order to raise sufficient capital in the future, Norwegian ship operators will need to attract overseas investors, Mr. Haga told a symposium on financing the Norwegian fleet organized by the London-based City University Business School.

Sweden's shipping industry also is keen to attract more foreign interest in shipping stock.

Ronald Bergman, president of Nordstrom & Thulin AB, said earlier this month that only 20 percent of his company's shares can be held by non-Swedes, but that he would like to see such restrictions lifted. Nordstrom & Thulin was floated in 1986 and the share price soared by 328 percent in 1988 and 42 percent in 1989.

"Long-term investors are realizing that shipping is a good investment," Mr. Bergman commented.

Scandinavians see themselves as the new entrepreneurs of shipping, replacing the Greeks who have become much more cautious as the younger generation of owners takes over.

But there is considerable rivalry between the Swedes and the Norwegians, with Swedish owners claiming that the Norwegian shipping boom is based on short-term speculation while the Swedes are laying the foundations for a more solidly based long-term recovery.

Norwegian investment has flowed largely into funds that have acquired second-hand ships for asset appreciation purposes, Mr. Bergman pointed out.

Shipping investment in Sweden, on the other hand, has been undertaken mostly by companies buying new vessels to take full advantage of the anticipated trading upturn. The Swedes are establishing themselves as world leaders in a number of niche areas, another leading Swedish shipping executive, Arne Koch, Wallenius Lines president, pointed out recently.

But at nearly 49 million deadweight tons, the Norwegian controlled fleet remains very much larger than the Swedish fleet of some 10 million tons, thanks largely to the enormously successful Norwegian International Ship Register.

As a result, the Norwegian business community believes it has an unrivalled fund of shipping know-how that should attract foreign-owned shipping companies to the Oslo Stock Exchange, Mr. Haga said.

He called on Norwegian politicians to create the necessary favorable conditions to reassure overseas investors and persuade foreign owners to seek a listing on the Oslo stock market.

Norwegian owners also would like to see more foreign investment in Norwegian shipping shares, according to Westye Hoegh, chairman of Leif Hoegh & Co. A/S. He told the symposium that Norwegian owners probably will need to spend between $4 billion and $5 billion on new and secondhand ships annually in the years ahead, but so far only a limited share of equity finance has come

from foreigners. While he expects the K/S partnership funds "to remain a very relevant form of cooperative shipowning in Norway," non-Norwegian equity investors also would be welcome, he said.

He echoed Mr. Haga's call for the Norwegian government to establish an attractive legal and tax framework for foreign investment in Norway's shipping industry.

Norway is now the world's fifth largest shipping nation in terms of ship capacity, with shipping companies representing 21 percent of the capitalized value and sales volume on the Oslo Stock Exchange.

Mr. Haga said he would like to see a greater share of shipping investments taking place through ordinary limited companies, which are simpler for lenders to deal with than the limited partnerships.

In order to consolidate Oslo's position as the largest financial market for shipping in the world, venture capital will have to be attracted from other Nordic countries, Britain and the United States, Mr. Haga said.

He is confident that the right climate now exists to draw non-Norwegian shipping investors and international companies to Oslo.

But Mr. Stolt-Nielsen sounded a note of caution, warning that "the asset play period is over," now that second-hand ships have moved into line with the cost of newbuildings.

"The companies that have been able to raise money lately have not been asset players, but old-fashioned shipping companies looking to make money from transporting cargo, companies with cash flow and that sort of thing," he observed.