Late February’s flurry of shipping events included an event by Navios Maritime Holdings (NYSE: NM) hosted at the New York Stock Exchange. Though better known for its bluewater bulk activities, Navios Maritime’s portfolio includes a 68.3% ownership (along with local partners) in Navios Logistics. This subsidiary serves the Hidrovia region of South America and has three core businesses including inland barges and coastal shipping.
The barge business, which moves bulk commodities such as soybeans and iron ore down from Uruguay and Brazil, has seen strong growth, accounting for $97.2 million of revenue and $14.6 million of EBITDA in 2013. One very compelling statistic, emerging from Navios CEO Angeliki Frangou’s speech at a luncheon, was that the total fleet of river barges operating in the relevant region, some 2,200 units, was serving waters that exceed the Mississippi and Ohio rivers combined. For comparison, the total fleet serving the U.S. inland waterway system is roughly 21,000 units, according to 2013 data from Informa Economics.
Investors in the U.S. markets have lacked ways to participate in barging markets, with equipment mainly in the hands of private companies. Kirby Corp., one well known publicly traded barge operator, reported record setting 2013 net earnings of $253.1 million, up from $209.4 million in the prior year. Kirby’s consolidated revenues for 2013 were $2.24 billion compared with $2.11 billion for 2012. In contrast, Navios Logistics saw overall revenues of $237.1 million in 2013.