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Seaspan Corporation (NYSE:SSW)

Q4 2013 Earnings Conference Call

March 03, 2014 08:30 PM ET

Executives

Sai Chu - CFO

Gerry Wang - CEO, Co-Chairman and Co-Founder

Analyst

Keith Mori - Barclays Capital

Urs Dur - Clarkson Capital Markets

Seth Lowry - Citi Research

Taylor Mulherin - Deutsche Bank

Operator

Welcome to the Seaspan Corporation conference call to discuss the financial results for the quarter and the year-end December 2013 -- I'm sorry, December 31, 2013.

Hosting the call today is Gerry Wang, Chief Executive Officer, Co-Chairman and Co-Founder of Seaspan Corporation, and Sai Chu, Chief Financial Officer of Seaspan Corporation.

Mr. Wang and Mr. Chu will be making some introductory comments and then we will open the call for questions. I will now turn the call over to Sai Chu.

Sai Chu

Thank you operator. Good morning everyone and thank you for joining us today. Before we begin please allow me to remind you that our discussion today contains forward-looking statements. Actual results may differ materially from results projected by those forward-looking statements.

Additional information concerning factors that could cause actual results to materially differ from those in the forward-looking statements is contained in the fourth-quarter 2013 earnings release and earnings webcast presentation slides, available on our website at www.seaspancorp.com, as well as in our annual report on form 20-F for the year ended December 31, 2012, filed with the SEC.

I'd also like to remind you that during this call we will discuss certain non-GAAP financial measures, including adjusted EBITDA, cash available for distribution to common shareholders, normalized net earnings and normalized earnings per share converted.

In regards to such financial measures and for reconciliations of such measures, the most closely-comparable US GAAP measures, please refer to our earnings release.

I will now pass the call over to Gerry who will discuss our fourth-quarter highlights as well as some more recent developments.

Gerry Wang

Thank you Sai. Please turn to slide 3 of the webcast presentation.

During 2013 we continued to execute on our strategy and deliver solid results. The size of our operating and managed fleet increased as we took delivery of vessels chartered to MOL. We diversified our capital structure by issuing new forms of capital and expanding our equity base.

We continued to return capital to shareholders in the form of dividends. Most importantly, we entered into transactions for an additional 29 vessels during the year, scheduled for delivery to Seaspan and GCI by the end of 2016, which will increase our owned and managed fleet to 105 vessels, or over [800,000] TEUs.

Turning to fourth-quarter results I would like to highlight three things. First, we ended the year with 71 vessels in our operating fleet and 73 vessels in our managed fleet.

Our operating fleet achieved 98.5% utilization for the quarter and 98% utilization for the year and continued to generate stable cash flows from long-term time charters.

Second, our Board declared dividends on our common and preferred shares and we delivered on our strategy of growing our common share dividend in a manner that balances our financial strength with ability to expand our fleet.

I'm pleased to announce that we will increase our common share dividend by 10% to $0.345 per share in the first quarter of 2014, which is an expected annual dividend of $1.38 per share for the four quarters ending December 31, 2014.

Third, we completed several important financing transactions during the quarter that improved our financial strength and flexibility.

We entered into our first ever unsecured term loan. We completed a follow-on offering of our Series D preferred shares. We completed our first common share offering since 2008 and we extended and re-financed our $1 billion credit facility in advance of the maturity date.

Please now turn to slide 4. We highlight some of the significant developments that have taken place since the beginning of the year.

Our Series A preferred shares converted to common shares. We issued a new series of preferred shares for proceeds over $130 million. Finally, we are pleased to announce that we have added additional six SAVER design 10,000 TEU vessels on long-term contracts with MOL, to make a total of 10 10,000 TEU vessels, to be constructed at YZJ Shipyard.

We are very pleased to have completed this transaction and to expand our relationship with MOL, one of the premier shipping companies in the Industry. Four of the six vessels will be delivered during second-half 2015 with the remaining two for first half of 2016.

With this transaction the total order book of our SAVER design 10,000 TEU vessels at YZJ will stand at 17. Worth mentioning here, given the requirements of our potential customers we are contemplating to add another four to six sisters for delivery during 2016.

We are also pleased to advise that the MV Hanjin Buddha, our first SAVER design 10,000 TEU vessel, has finished sea trials successfully and will be delivered to Hanjin Shipping ahead of schedule in the second half of March. This will be the first of our 9 units of 10,000 TEU vessels scheduled for delivery during 2015 -- 2014, rather, for Seaspan and GCI.

We continue to see healthy demand from our liner customers for large fuel-efficient vessels and we hope to build on last year's success for the year of 2014.

I will now turn the call over to Mr. Sai Chu, our CFO, to discuss our quarterly financial results. Mr. Chu, Sai, please.

Sai Chu

Thanks Gerry. Please turn to slide 5 for a summary of our Q4 and results for 2013 compared to 2012.

Revenues increased by $2.2 million, or 1.3% in Q4 and by $16.3 million, or 2.5% for the year, primarily due to the deliveries of two 4,600s during the year and full-year impact of the four 13,000s delivered in 2012.

Management of third-party vessels and fewer dry -- scheduled dry-docking days partially offset by lower time charter revenue from six ships on short-term time charters that were on higher-rate, long-term time charters in 2012 and more off-charter days in 2013. In addition, there was one more calendar day in 2014, as it was a leap year.

Vessel utilization was similar, at 98.5% in Q4. There was an increase of 184 vessel ownership days in Q4 due to the addition of two vessels to our fleet during the year.

Vessel utilization for the year was 98% compared to 98.9% last year. There was an increase of 710 ownership days due to the 4,600s and a full year of the 13,000s.

There was one less dry-docking and 32 fewer scheduled off-hire days this year. However, there was an increase of 262 unscheduled off-hire days due to the vessels in the short term. Five of the six short-term vessels are now on 22-month to 30-month charters, leaving one to be chartered in 2014.

Ship operating expenses increased by $1.6 million, or 4.2% in the quarter, and $11.5 million, or 8.3% for the year. This was primarily due to an increase in ownership days from 2012-delivered 13,000s and from the 4,600s.

In addition, increases to ship OpEx were related to higher lube insurance and other operating costs for the larger vessels. And increases in crew wages, spare parts -- cause higher spare-part purchases as well an expanding fleet in older vessels.

G&A increased by $0.9 million, or 13.4%, and by $10.2 million, or 41.3% for the quarter and year respectively. These increases were primarily due to $1.3 million and $10.9 million respectively for the quarter and year of non-cash stock-appreciation rights granted in Q1 to our CEO and certain members of management.

Adjusted EBITDA and cash available for distribution to common shareholders. EBITDA adjusted was stable for the year and the quarter respectively, at $510 million and $129 million.

Cash available for distribution was stable for the quarter, at $71 million, and decreased slightly, by 1.8%, to $278 million in 2013. The increase in off-charter days and lower charter rates for 4,250s in the short-term market were offset by the impact of new ships delivered in 2012 and 2013.

There were more dry-dockings, an increase in financing fees and higher preferred share dividends from a full year of dividends on the trustee shares issued in December 2012.

For EPS, normalized EPS for Q4 was $0.25 per common share compared at $0.27 for the quarter. Normalized net earnings increased for the quarter, but decreased on a per-share basis due to an increase in dividends paid on our series C and D preferred shares and from an increase on our weighted average share count from our Q4 share offering.

Normalized EPS for 2013 was $0.92, a $0.30 decrease, due to the impact of raising capital early for our substantial new-build order book, OpEx increases, depreciation and non-cash SARs.

We've invested in the largest new-build order book in the industry and expect it will result in significant shareholder value as it's delivered in the next two and a half years as the value of these ships continue to increase to historical levels.

The dividend policy. As Gerry mentioned, our Board approved a 10% increase to our quarterly common share dividend which we expect to total $1.38 per share for the four quarters ending December 31, 2014, which we expect to be paid on April 30, July 30, October 30 and January 30 of 2015.

This represents the fifth increase to our common share dividend since Q3 of 2010. This is a sustainable dividend level that provides balanced returns to our shareholders while allowing us to maintain financial flexibility and take advantage of attractive growth opportunities that exist in the current market.

Please turn to slide 6 for our balance sheet information.

Seaspan's cash and cash equivalents including short-term investments totaled $488 million, a $71 million increase. During the year Seaspan invested approximately $300 million in new ships through both our new-build program and an investment in two 4,600 second-hand vessels on charter to MOL.

For total debt we made debt repayments of $67.4 million. The net decrease was of $150.7 million due to the $125 million unsecured loan finalized at the end of the year. And the remainder comprised of draws on credit facilities for our new-build program after the acquisition of the 4,600s.

On the capital structure side there have been significant achievements in our capital structure recently.

Starting with new capital issued, in November we completed our $50 million follow-on offering of our Series D preferreds and we completed our first public offering of common stock in over five years, with 3.5 million shares issued for $77 million in proceeds.

In December we entered into our first unsecured facility, a five-year $125 million non-amortizing fixed-rate loan. A few weeks ago we also executed a $135 million new-issue Series E preferreds. In January the Series A preferred shares converted into 23 million common shares, increasing our market cap to over $2 billion.

In January we closed our first major refinancing on our $1 billion IPO facility. The outstanding balance was reduced to $434 million, the maturity date extended by four years to May 2019 and the interest rate adjusted to current market levels.

We were pleased to have completed this over a year ahead of the required maturity and appreciate the support we continue to receive from our syndicated banks.

Please turn to slide 7 for our latest forward guidance.

2014 we will benefit from a full year of revenues on the 2013-delivered MOL 4,600s as well as management fees on the two 4,600s [powered] by GCI, and on three new builds that GCI is expected to take delivery on in 2014.

We have five deliveries, two of which are anticipated to deliver during the first half. Assuming three of the six MOL 10,000s will be allocated to Seaspan, we expect to have nine vessels delivering during 2015, six 14,000s and three 10,000s. The remaining two 14,000s in our new-build fleet are expected to deliver 2016.

On a fully-delivered basis we expect our 16 new-build vessels to generate approximately $250 million in annual revenue and approximately $190 million in an annual EBITDA.

During 2014 we expect to invest $475 million in our new-build fleet. These installments will be funded from existing debt facilities, facilities to be secured for the two MOL 10,000s with the remainder to be funded from cash on hand.

The rest of our new-build fleet, expected to deliver during 2015 and 2016, we will finance with a combination of debt facilities currently in place, debt facilities to be obtained and from other sources.

During 2014 we expect to have a total of approximately 100 dry-docking days, with approximately 40 each in Q2 and Q4, and 20 days in Q3. This is expected to increase to approximately 260 days in 2015 and 200 days in 2016. Each of these items remains subject to adjustments.

I would now like to turn the call back over to Gerry.

Gerry Wang

Thank you. Thanks Sai. Please turn to slide 7 (sic - see presentation "8"). I will briefly discuss the industry fundamentals.

Consistent with last quarter there have been no material change in the market fundamentals, except for the fact that Evergreen has recently joined the CKYH alliance as the fifth member.

On the supply side we expect tangibles of about 5% for the year 2014. Major operators continue to manage supply through widespread slow-streaming and incremental iteming of older vessels.

The order book remains at approximately 20%, 23% of effective loading capacity, or about 7%, 8% per annum on average. It is worth noting here that the vessel demolitions of the 1980s and 1990s built have been accelerated.

On the demand side we expect global container trade volume to grow by around 5% to 6% for the year 2014, as per various forecasts. For freight-rate the environment remains volatile from trade lane to trade lane, given that we see some stability.

Given the alliance of P3 and also the expansion of CKYH [ME] charter rates for short-term charters have not changed materially in the first few months of the year.

Our customers' demand for large eco-class container ships continues to be driven by a desire for cost reduction rather than a desire for market share. Since [bunker] costs are 30% to 45% of an operator's operating costs, modernizing their fleets with large, modern, fuel-efficient vessels such as those built using Seaspan's SAVER design concept has become top priority.

Given all those conditions we expect to continue to see strong demand for -- from our liner customers for large eco-class ships.

At the same time we continue to expect that ship outsourcing will be a large part of container operators' fleet modernization plans. Seaspan's competitiveness is defined by our financial strength and technical and operational expertise.

Our customers see Seaspan as a trusted operator and partner due to our proven track records of building and operating and financing large, modern container ships.

We believe we are well positioned to continue to capture a significant portion of growth opportunities going forward and believe our focused strategy and market position will translate to long-term shareholder value.

Let me just turn to slide 8 (sic - see presentation "9"), which depicts the stable maturity profile of our charter portfolio.

The average remaining charter length of our operating fleet is approximately five years. As a result of our success procuring time charters of up to 30 months for two of our vessels that were previously trading in the short-term charter markets we now have only one vessels, which is a 4,250 TEU vessel that is up for re-charter in the spot market for the year, which represents less than 1% of Seaspan's expected 2014 revenue.

As I mentioned earlier, we have formalized charters with MOL for the total of 10, 10,000 TEU new-build vessels to be constructed at YZJ. These vessels remain subject to ROFR with GCI. We are pleased to have completed this transaction to expand our relationship with MOL, one of the leading shipping companies in the industry.

This is consistent with our strategy of entering into long-term charters with creditworthy counterparties in order to generate long-term, stable cash flows and expand our fleet of modern Echo-class vessels.

Please now turn to slide 9 (sic - see presentation "10"), which -- where I will reiterate our vision for the future.

We believe Seaspan is well positioned to continue to both enhance our leadership position and create shareholder value over the long term. We'll continue to pursue fleet growth with a controlled and balanced approach, being patient and disciplined and using our financial strength and technical and operational leadership position to capitalize on opportunities that meet our strict criteria.

Our core focus will remain on designing, owning and chartering large, modern, fuel-efficient containerships to creditworthy customers. As a ship leasing franchise we consider it to be critical to be consistently maintaining a strong balance sheet. Diversifying our capital structure and enhancing our financial strength, including maintaining appropriate leverage will remain one of our top priorities.

As we continue to invest in new vessels for our future we expect our strong base of cash flows from existing charters, as well as future growth, will enable us our franchise to be stronger and stronger for the long-term value of our shareholders.

We have a history of returning capital to shareholders and we remain committed to sustainably increasing our common share dividend over the long term as we continue to optimistically grow our business.

Now it's time for Q&A. Operator, please begin.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Thank you. (Operator Instructions). Our first question comes from the line of Keith Mori of Barclays. Your line is now open.

Keith Mori - Barclays

Hi. Good morning, gentlemen.

Gerry Wang

Hi, Keith.

Keith Mori - Barclays

Thank you.

Sai Chu

Hi, Keith.

Keith Mori - Barclays

I'd like to just start out with a broader question. We've seen a lot of new ordering activity last year. We're seeing prices rise here. Obviously, that can impact returns. Where you see it today, do you think the pace of new ordering activity will continue in the larger fleet size? And what's your view on that going forward for the rest of the year?

Gerry Wang

Yes, we have seen quite a few new orders for the past year, but generally speaking if you look at the supply side in terms of the modernization program that the liner operators want to contemplate, the new-building order book, at 22%, 23% effective loading, is still on the historical-low side.

I think we'll see some slowdown of the new-building orders given the price increases for the containerships and [even seeing] more price increases for the dry bulkers and the tankers. So overall speaking for our business Seaspan in particular will always pursue new-building orders, securing time charters simultaneously.

So what has happened or what is happening has a very limited impact on the deals that we did in terms of economics and also the criteria we want to have, which is credit worthiness of the counterparty and the long-term nature of our contracts.

Keith Mori - Barclays

Okay, thank you for the color. I guess when we think about -- you gave us an update on where you think 2014 could be; a little bit more balanced, moderating. Do you see 2015 being an inflection point here given where new ordering activity has been for the past 12 months? Do you think maybe -- ordering maybe got ahead and maybe you could see some imbalance in 2015 even?

Gerry Wang

I would think, given the trend of the new operating prices, absolutely, I would anticipate that 2015 new-building activities will be further moderated. I would see less and less new builds, because generally speaking ship owners and liner operators they want to take advantage of low prices. I think probably for 2015 the prices will be just a little too high.

Keith Mori - Barclays

Okay, thank you. And I guess one for Sai here. I know you increased the dividend here 10%. You do have some capital requirements over the next 12 months to 18 months. What's your view on capital priorities? Walk us through your process on increasing the dividend versus maybe using that capital towards the new-build program.

Sai Chu

Well, I think that we've demonstrated that we take a balanced approach. We've had dividend increases annually, but the reality is we are well positioned. We don't need to raise capital unless it's opportunistic for us in the next while.

So we've got an ability to continue to look at the dividend. It's a very sustainable level. The payout ratio is still very moderate. And the capital needs can be funded in many different ways.

Keith Mori - Barclays

Okay, and then I guess one more from me. Gerry, I want to make sure that I understood in the beginning; maybe a clarification. Did you mention that maybe you may put in an option for four new ships in 2016 as well, exercising an option?

Gerry Wang

Yes, we are contemplating to add another four to six 10,000 TEUs to meet the requirements of our [charterers], because we have several enquiries for this class and we're in the process of discussing with our charterers right now.

Once they get -- it's getting closer on the charterer side we will be looking at the lock up -- locking up four to six vessels. That is the plan and that is what we do right now. And once the deals are done then we'll make an announcement.

Keith Mori - Barclays

Okay. Thank you for your time, guys. I'll pass along.

Gerry Wang

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Urs Dur of Clark Capital Markets. Your line is now open.

Urs Dur - Clarkson Capital Markets

Hello?

Sai Chu

Hi, Urs.

Urs Dur - Clarkson Capital Markets

Hi. The previous caller got a lot of the capital questions out of the way. So you had discussed a broader market outlook for 5% to 6% TEU throughput growth globally.

Can you describe at all what you might be seeing from your clients, obviously, [you're less order] to ship not in the day-to-day logistics, but from your clients in regards to Asia to Europe numbers has there been any progress or stability or growth in that front?

Gerry Wang

Yes. Asia, Europe as of we speak right now is actually not too bad, typical March/April Q1 situation. The operators are actually quite optimistic. They think the February increase that they anticipated and they've announced will be actually effective, which is a good sign. And the volume expectation is of 4%, 5%, which is within the forecast, so, so far so good for the main trade.

As I pointed out in the industry presentation, we expect the overall market conditions for this year from [indiscernible] to be fairly modest, pretty much along similar lines of last year, with some slight improvements from [indiscernible] especially for Europe, as Europe is getting a little bit more on the recovery side.

Urs Dur - Clarkson Capital Markets

Great. And then in regards to pricing for new-build orders there's been some hint that maybe rates will go up and yard space is limited. Are you still seeing well below $10,000 per TEU for the large ships?

Gerry Wang

Yes. They're marginally below $10,000 per TEU right now and the gap has been closed pretty fast. You've seen the pressure from the dry bulk in the tanker side. Prices have gone up 15% for the other sectors, so we're seeing a lot of pressure on the container side for the prices to move up.

And, as I pointed out with the previous caller, sooner or later the new-building prices will return to above $10,000 per TEU. And I would anticipate for the year 2015 you will see fewer and fewer new-building orders, because I believe by that time the prices will have largely been restored.

Urs Dur - Clarkson Capital Markets

Okay, excellent. Thank you very much for your time, guys. Thanks.

Gerry Wang

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Christian Wetherbee of Citi; your line is now opened.

Seth Lowry - Citi

Good morning. This is Seth Lowry, in for Chris, and I have a question on scrapping. We've seen a fairly robust pace of scrapping over the past couple of years and it's projected to continue going forward. But as we look in over the next 12 months to 18 months we'll have worked through most of the tonnage that's over 20 years old.

Just wondering if I could get your views on where you feel owners of older tonnage, whether it be 20-year or 15-year vessels, are incentivized to send their older tonnage to the scrap yard. Where do you think that point ultimately shakes out if this current rate environment persists over the next 24 months?

Gerry Wang

I think if the current market conditions continue you'll see more and more ships, containerships that are over 20 years old that would be really going towards the graveyards. Scrapping will pick up this year for two reasons.

One is the liner operators more and more the new echo vessels being delivered to them. That would create the -- so-called the cascade impact, so push then the older vessels towards the marginal use and then of course some of them end up being scrapped. That's one thing.

Another thing is generally speaking the liner majors just feel maintaining those older vessels is very expensive, so they would prefer to get rid of them instead of sticking to them for the potential limited use in the future.

So we feel that trend is -- the pickup is paced and, obviously, from the independent owners' side some older vessels are getting to the difficult situation, because the [possession] in banks just don't want to pay for the warehousing and the special survey and dry-docking to keep them in services. So forcefully they will go to the graveyards just for that reason.

Seth Lowry - Citi

Okay. Do you think that that dynamic plays out for, let's say, 15-year-old vessels instead of the 20-year? It seems to make quite a bit of sense for the 20-year-old vessels, but how young does that tradeoff between modern echo vessel operating efficiencies push out older tonnage, so to speak?

Gerry Wang

Yes, the push out is getting quite obvious, but at the same time that's part of the underlying force of the cyclicality and that's why we have cycles.

And during good times the vessels tend to trade longer and during bad times the vessels' economic life tends to be a little bit shorter and obviously all those things that the market forces that push each other. When the market recovers, obviously, things will adjust automatically.

So at this point of time what I have seen, after talking to many CEOs, there is an increased desire to send 20 years' old or above to the demolitions and also some of the other independently-financed vessels are also under pressure to be scrapped, just given the market conditions we are going through right now.

Seth Lowry - Citi

Okay, thanks. I'll turn it over.

Gerry Wang

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. (Operator Instructions). Our next question comes from the line of Justin Yagerman of Deutsche Bank. Your line is now open.

Taylor Mulherin - Deutsche Bank

Good morning. This is Taylor Mulherin on for Justin.

Gerry Wang

Hi, Taylor.

Taylor Mulherin - Deutsche Bank

Hi. I wanted to just clarify something real quick. With all the new-building conversation going on this morning I just wanted to put a number. The assumption that you have right now is basically to have 16 of these new buildings delivering to eventually become part of the Seaspan fleet. Is that correct?

Gerry Wang

Correct.

Taylor Mulherin - Deutsche Bank

Okay, great. And then just talking on the capacity at the shipyards right now, in terms of availability, if you or a competitor were to want to order something right now about when would you be able to get delivery?

Gerry Wang

Today probably the open space available for delivery would be from second-half 2016 to first-half 2017 for reasonably large containerships. And you may have a couple of slots here and there for earlier and later. Generally speaking the shipyards are pretty much full for -- until the point of mid-2016.

Taylor Mulherin - Deutsche Bank

Great. And then one final one, just more of a longer-term question on the dividend strategy. It was asked a little bit earlier, but just in a different way. There's quite a bit of capital needs just on the CapEx side in 2015 and 2016, or 2015 mostly. And I just wanted to ask is that going to be an impediment to continuing to grow the dividend.

The next four quarters seems like its pretty well structured at this point, but just beyond that is it potentially going to be an issue with all the CapEx needs? Or do you continue to feel comfortable with your capital position?

Gerry Wang

Yes, let me just give a first crack first then I'll let our veteran CFO answer that question.

Taylor, the question is really in the future dynamics of the balance of growth and the financing situation our capital structure and all those things come into play it's hard to predict what will happen from now to next 12 months.

As our CFO has mentioned, our [P&L] ratio remains very low and we're committed to sustainably returning capital to our shareholders. And we're very confident and feel comfortable the dividend situation is under control. But over the next 12 months a lot of things will happen in terms of the capital market conditions, the growth opportunities, both old ones and new ones.

And that's really what we try to say to you guys. It's difficult to pin down exactly what will happen in terms of a build. And as far as the increase and -- but generally speaking we've be increasing dividends for several years now and we realize the importance of returning capital to our shareholders. And our policy is to continue to stick to that.

I'd like to ask our veteran CFO, Sai Chu, to add more color on that.

Sai Chu

Well, I think Gerry did a great job. I think we're very comfortable with our capital position and I think that there -- as he said, our P&L ratio is quite modest and the capital needs are not that significant going forward.

For the most part we do have available credit facilities and new credit facilities that we're working on, so we can choose to look at different forms of capital to fund the remainder of the order book.

Taylor Mulherin - Deutsche Bank

Great, thanks for your time.

Gerry Wang

Thank you.

Operator

(Operator Instructions). As there are no further questions in the queue, I'd like to hand the call back over to Sai Chu for any closing remarks.

Gerry Wang

Okay, very good. Thank you very much for taking the call and we're looking forward to speaking to you again in [indiscernible] next time. In the meantime have a great time and enjoy your life. Thank you very much.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for participating in today's conference. This does conclude today's program. You may all disconnect. Have a great day, everyone.

Gerry Wang

Thank you.

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