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Developments in investor markets benefits terminals

Published by , Editorial Assistant
Tanks and Terminals,

Frank Schreurs shares his insights on how developments to investor markets will prove beneficiary for terminals and their operators in terms of long term development.

Tank terminals have made consistently strong returns over the last few years. Throughout the financial crisis, and huge range of oil prices, the oil storage companies have performed well compared to other sectors. Still today there are plenty of trading and marketing companies looking for storage capacity. Whilst a part of this demand is supported by the present contango market structure (where the higher future value of oil allows traders to buy now and sell later for profit), the majority of demand is driven by the ever increasing demand for oil and the supply chain bottlenecks that require more storage.

This resilient and consistent performance across the financial and commodity market cycles is attracting financial investors looking for alternative sources of yield.

Changing investor landscape

Tank terminal investments were, until recently, the territory of industry players or private equity. Increasingly, they face fierce competition from pension and infrastructure funds. Behind this development is their quest for yield. There is no way a pension fund or insurance company can meet its return mandates by buying German bonds (as the yield are close to zero). They will shift more of their capital allocations out of, for example sovereign debt, and seek higher yielding (and hence riskier) investment opportunities in infrastructure. Typical core infrastructure investments such as (air)ports, gas pipelines or toll roads are very competitive, resulting in lower yields for the investors. Now many identify European tank terminals as a sound alternative.

In the larger transactions for dividend yielding storage assets, I have not seen any traditional industry players and hardly any private equity firms among the final bidders. Infrastructure funds, and especially pension funds, have lower return expectations, which are driving up valuations.

Private equity firms have become more creative to meet their return requirements. Some have hired management teams from the storage industry to acquire and develop storage terminals for them, taking over the role of storage operators in this respect. Examples of this include, Zenith (backed by Walburg Pincus), GPS (backed by Blue Water Energy) and HES (backed by Carlyle/Riverstone). There are several other financial investors considering the same.

What about the traditional storage operators? Vopak, for example, has been focusing on divesting some of its smaller assets in Scandinavia (Vopak Sweden sold to Inter Terminals) and the UK (sold to Greenergy/Macquarie). Oiltanking sold its US business to Enterprise and has cash to spend. It recently acquired Vopak Finland and Antwerp Gas Terminal for undisclosed numbers. At what point will these operators cash in their future earnings now?

Future trend

Overall a trend to continue: pension funds and infrastructure funds shall focus on the larger mature assets, while private equity perhaps has to take more risk by focusing on growing smaller assets, greenfield projects or opportunities in emerging markets.

The real world is not that black and white, and future will tell what will happen. It is however fair to say the M&A activity in the sector will continue for some years. Concentration in the sector is generally low with the top 10 storage companies owning only 16% of the total (non-US) storage capacity.

What is the opportunity for existing storage companies?

So how can you as an owner of one of more tank terminals benefit from these developments? How can you compete with these big investors if you like to grow your business by acquiring additional terminal capacity? Even for the smaller acquisitions you will face fierce competition.

Especially if you are limited in bank financing, it is worth considering a dialogue with some of these investors. You could consider an outside investor as a shareholder in your project, acquisition target or even at holding level of your company. The partnership of investment muscle and operational experience will be the route to mutual value creation.

How to position your storage company

What is important is how to position as a company. Is there a clear idea of how to perform as a business in the eye of an investor? What are they key levers that can be used to increase attractiveness and value? And most importantly, how is the correct partner selected, that provides most value to a company and its targeted acquisition or project? The answer to that question starts with a thorough assessment of a business that will help one to understand better what a terminal’s key value drivers are and how to position said company. That may sound straightforward, but financial investors look at the world through a different set of eyes.

How much an investor will pay for shares and how much control wanted over a company depends heavily on the size of the business, the growth opportunities and the historical performance of a company. And last but not least individual wishes in this respect.

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