US alternative asset manager EnTrust Global is already on the hunt for more acquisitions after closing a complex deal to take over ABN Amro's Maas Capital Shipping.

The deal for the shipping investment division was announced in June as part of the Dutch bank's disposal of non-core assets.

Maas Capital owns bulkers with Norway's Grieg Star, tankers through the ClearOcean Tankers venture with Oceangold Tankers and commodity trader Gunvor, and container leasing interests through US company CS Leasing.

EnTrust's Blue Ocean Group maritime team is bringing in six staff from Maas Capital, led by Mark Ras, who will continue to be involved with the management of the portfolio and to source growth opportunities.

Maas Capital has deployed close to $1bn in shipping equity investments since the late 1990s.

The portfolio includes 15 joint venture investments, consisting of a fleet of 76 high-quality vessels within the product/chemical tanker, dry bulk, LPG, container and offshore services segments.

On average, Maas has a 50% interest in the ships.

Omer Donnerstein, managing director of EnTrust Global and investment analyst for Blue Ocean, told TradeWinds: "Maas is a very sizeable transaction, it's a lot more than just buying ships."

Last November, Maas Capital invited a number of bidders to tender, he said. In March this year, EnTrust was selected.

"They are very complicated transactions, given all the approvals needed. It took a while," Donnerstein added.

Even though the company had the knowledge and experience to manage Maas Capital in-house, Blue Ocean wanted to have the service of a team that knows the portfolio well, to maintain continuity and make sure joint venture partners are comfortable.

"We've got to know the team over the last nine months and we're very happy with partnering with them so they can continue to help manage the portfolio," Donnerstein said.

"We viewed the platform as a way to further expand in equity. It's a great franchise and brand name and something we will look to capitalise on in the future for additional investments."

Svein Engh, senior managing director of EnTrust Global and portfolio manager of Blue Ocean Group, told TradeWinds more joint ventures are likely in terms of equity investments.

"We're not set up with our own technical and commercial management. It's important to have the right partners," he added.

Engh said the group was attracted by Maas' high-quality portfolio and partners.

A lot of these joint venture partners already knew Blue Ocean.

Familiarity breeds success

'Maas is a very sizable transaction,' says Omer Donnerstein. 'It's a lot more than just buying ships.' Photo: EnTrust

"Since they all had to give their consent, we think that familiarity helped us win the bid in the end," Engh said.

As for investment strategy, "We believe in a countercyclical approach. It might not be the best time right now to go out and buy containerships because the market is so crazy."

On the dry bulk side, Blue Ocean feels there is a dislocation between price and what the ships are actually earning now, so deals are still under scrutiny.

"But we're getting to that point where we have to be more careful," Engh added.

He views tankers as probably the most interesting area right now, for investing or lending.

"We always have to be aware of the cyclical nature of this industry. That's what we've all learned. I've been doing this since 1987, so I've seen a few cycles, up and down," he told TradeWinds.

Blue Ocean is best known as a debt finance company, although it also has investments in ships, largely in the liner market.

"The completion of the Maas Capital portfolio acquisition is another step in our expansion into the equity investment space, and something we view as a significant asset for the Blue Ocean strategy," Engh said.

The idea is to continue the momentum generated by the portfolio in recent years, all at a time when fundamentals continue to stabilise in the global maritime industry, he added.

Donnerstein said: "We are excited to team up with shipping companies that we view as best-in-class partners and look forward to establishing new partnerships with other leaders in the space."

And Ras added: "This marks a new and exciting chapter in the development of Maas Capital as we expand existing investments, bring on new partners and venture into new markets."