The past few years have been very good for barge companies. One barge company owner told me recently that last year was by far its best year ever, and others have reported record earnings, strong balance sheets and excellent cash flow.
In its fourth-quarter earnings call in January, Kirby reported that 2014 was the barge company’s fourth consecutive year of record earnings — $4.93 per share compared with $4.44 per share in 2013. During the fourth quarter, Kirby’s inland and coastal tank barge fleets enjoyed “healthy levels of demand across all markets and high equipment utilization levels,” said chairman Joe Pyne. “In the inland market despite some pressure on spot prices, we continued to be very busy.”
Barge companies say the steep decline in energy prices over the past several months is good for the economy and good for business. For tank barge owners like Kirby and Blessey Marine, that should translate into more demand for petrochemical and refined products movements. As Pyne said in January, “U.S. petrochemical business continues to remain globally advantaged, which has spurned an unprecedented level of new plant construction. We expect to see substantial increases in domestic petrochemical production over the next several years from these new petrochemical facilities.”
You can hear all about the economic outlook for the inland barge market at WorkBoat’s one-day Inland Waterways Summit in New Orleans on Tuesday. Barge industry consultant Brent Dibner, president of Dibner Maritime Associates, and Eric Livingston, a vice president at GATX who focuses on domestic marine equipment, will head up the panel on the subject.
There will also be two other panels — inland towboat design and Subchapter M, WRRDA, the barge tax and other issues facing inland operators — and a keynote address from Mike Toohey, president and CEO of Waterways Council Inc.
I look forward to seeing you in New Orleans on Tuesday.