Interests associated with investment bank JP Morgan have been identified as the backers behind two LNG carrier newbuildings contracted at Samsung Heavy Industries.
Newbuilding sources described the party that ordered the duo announced by SHI last week as an “unconventional” shipowner that the yard is keen not to name.
Others have named the contracting party as JP Morgan, and said the order results from a much earlier and highly secret enquiry that was circulated to certain shipbuilders.
They said the order is for two firm vessels with an option for a further pair.
One said the vessels are being ordered against term charter business with Shell.
Kept under wraps
They stressed that the energy major, which fixed LNG newbuildings from TMS Cardiff Gas and Sovcomflot late last year, has been at pains to keep the business under wraps, limiting those involved in the discussions to a smaller-than-normal group.
SHI said at the end of last week that it had inked a KRW 450bn ($381m) contract with a Bermuda-registered client for two LNG carriers, without naming the contracting party.
The newbuildings, the ninth and 10th sealed by the South Korean yard this year, are scheduled for delivery by June 2022.
Andy Dacy, chief investment officer at JP Morgan’s global transportation group, did not respond to requests for confirmation or comment.
If JP Morgan is confirmed as the backer of the newbuildings, it would be a new move for the bank, which has so far confined its shipping investments to other sectors.
The company, which conducts its shipping business under its Global Maritime Investment Group arm, is widely understood to have eyed up LNG ship investments previously without taking the plunge.
Brokers said it would be unlikely to order without firm business and an operator for the vessels.
JP Morgan is no stranger to the LNG sector, having made its first moves in 2010, buying what were then import rights at Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass receiving terminal under a two-year deal.
The bank is also not averse to launching itself into a newbuilding arena when it feels the time is opportune and making a later asset play on the tonnage. In April 2017, it approached several Chinese yards for a slew of capesize and newcastlemax bulker newbuildings, shortly after buying up secondhand bulker tonnage.
It confirmed four ships at one yard, later selling two prior to delivery in a profitable deal.
The first five months of 2019 have proved unexpectedly active for LNG newbuildings, following a year in which companies — including several key new entrants — stocked up on the vessels.
This year, most of the orders have been confirmations of optional slots held by owners that had sealed deals last year in a market in which long-term sentiment is high.
But there have been some mystery exceptions. South Korea’s Sinokor Merchant Marine was another new entrant, with a four-ship order at SHI in the first quarter.
Brokers peg current LNG newbuildings at around $190m, with specialist features pushing some closer to $195m.