The wit and wisdom of Paul Daniels, the shipping magician

In the words of Rakim, it’s been a long time. I shouldn’t have left you. But in the words of Elton John, the bitch is back. The hiatus has largely revolved around a long gold mining season out in the hills above Airdrie. We plundered a full ounce of gold for our work, which is more than enough to pay the mortgage on my bijou flat over Wong’s chip shop in Airdrie High Street. Less a pied a terre, more a pomme de terre.

When I got back to the working man’s club I had the chance to catch up with the local shipping community of owners, operators, brokers and other arch criminals. My old pal One-Armed Archie had some interesting news for me. A buddy of ours, Paul Daniels, had recently been in town, raising money for his newest venture, which on not that close inspection looked identical to his old venture, which basically shafted and defaulted on a vast array of people. We thought our pal had been keeping a low profile after failing to offer the reacharound to ship owners who had chartered their vessels to him on contractual terms that they assumed would be respected. However, Paul respected the contracts in the same way Kim Jong Un respects freedom of speech. By the way, his real name is not actually Paul Daniels, but was given that name for his ability to make things like investors’ money disappear.

I shall now make the investors’ money disappear.

Archie told me that Paul was apparently back in the game and was in the process of trying to list his operating company on the Airdrie stock exchange at some point in 2018. To put it politely, I wouldn’t trust Paul as far as I could throw him, and at my age that isn’t very far at all. But I do respect him. You see old Paul had worked something out about shipping folk and once shared it with me over a game of darts we had during my eldest daughter’s wedding reception in the function room over Lidl in Bargeddie. He told me that the shipping press literally has no memory. He said that they faithfully report anything you say, and usually favourably too because they think that running a shipping company is like running the CIA. So whatever you say it is religiously taken at face value, even when you are totally contradicting yourself.

You’re typical shipping executive.

An example he gave me was a recent shipping conference that had a panel made up entirely of CEOs and CFOs of dry bulk companies that had at some stage gone into Chapter XI, done stock splits, rearranged defaulting loans and/or burned 95+% value for the initial investors. The packed room waited to hear this gaggle of geese give their outlook on the dry bulk market! One genius even began to extol the uptick in the Chinese domestic property market. And with all of this experience of failure available  on the panel not one person in the audience dared ask the panel for an estimate of (a) how much combined investor money their companies had lost and (b) what was the combined net worth of the panel members as highly paid individuals. Who needs enemies huh?

Investors (right) pouring cash into shipping company (left) before it settles in the pockets of the CEOs (not in picture).

But my buddy is definitely not St Paul. Far from it. He ruthlessly ignores his own statements, backtracks and just says things with enough force that somehow they are not questioned. After finishing up my rum and Irn Bru with Archie I headed for the local library and got onto the micro fiche to search the shipping press archives for articles about Paul, his company and its many woes. Below I have extracted a chronology of what I found, confirming for anybody prepared to add two and two that indeed you can say just about anything if you fly business class, attend nice dinners and speak to the press once in a while. Enjoy! (I haven’t used Paul’s real name as I wouldn’t want to upset anybody now would I? The quotes have been edited by me, but the sense and facts remain untouched I assure you).

November 2015: 

Paul Daniels laid bare the troubles facing the dry cargo market today,¬†noting escalating counter party risk issues, which are becoming increasingly apparent given the distress in the market where spot rates in all sub-sectors are below operating costs. Daniels said ” What we are seeing is the increased counter party risk. You need to assess this when it comes to which counter parties you want to deal with”. He stated that asset values are not a specific risk to Nottalott Shipping: “What is important is to be able to trade the market and secure cargoes when we want them. And to a certain extent you can say the value of Nottalott Shipping increases in a bad market.

I REALLY WANT YOU TO READ THE BIT IN BOLD AGAIN AND TRY TO REMEMBER IT. LATER YOU MIGHT THINK THAT THIS ISN’T ACTUALLY VERY TRUE AT ALL.

February 2016:

Nottalot Ship Holding is writing to ship owners in search of rate reductions as it seeks to secure its future. The loss-making business is burning $4-5m per month in cash. Nottalot Ship Holding has long-term contracts for 23 vessels and has owning interests in four more. It is trying to secure a future away from Nottalot Shipping. Commenting on the proposals, CEO Paul Daniels said ” It is shocking how weak the market has become”.

BUT PAUL! LAST NOVEMBER YOU SAID THAT NOTTALOT SHIPPING’S VALUE GOES UP IN A WEAK MARKET, RIGHT? SO SURELY YOU’RE QUIDS IN? AND DON’T FORGET YOUR WARNING ON COUNTER PARTY RISK, WHICH NOW APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN A WARNING TO YOUR COUNTER PARTIES THAT YOU WERE PLANNING ON WEASELLING OUT.

Disgruntled ship owners were willing to use all legal means to block the sale of Nottalot Shipping, even if it bankrupts McGee Ship Holding, which is the new name for Nottalot Ship Holding.

NAUGHTY NAUGHTY PAUL! IT TURNS OUT THAT YOU APPEAR TO HAVE SHELTERED ONE BUSINESS BY USING ANOTHER. SO ONLY ONE OF YOUR COMPANIES COULD POTENTIALLY GO UP IN VALUE IF THE MARKET CRASHED, WHILE THE OTHER WAS BASICALLY GOING TO GO BUST. A CLASSIC TEXAS HEDGE.

March 2016:

McGee Ship Holding could go bust in days if it cannot agree a deal with owners. The company revealed this week that it has stopped nearly all charter and other payments.

HMMMMMM, WHAT NEXT I WONDER?

McGee Ship Holding files for bankruptcy.

ALL TOGETHER NOW . . . . . NEVER!!

August 2016:

Paul Daniels, CEO of Nottalot Shipping stated: “The continued weak dry bulk market made it particularly challenging to find good opportunities in the spot market”.

NOW IS THE MOMENT TO RECALL PAUL’S QUOTE FROM NOVEMBER 2015, BECAUSE UNLESS I MISUNDERSTOOD HIM, NOTTALOT SHIPPING SHOULD BE DOING REALLY VERY WELL INDEED IN THIS MARKET. BUT IT IS ACTUALLY DOING REALLY BADLY. IN FACT ONE MIGHT SAY THAT PAUL’S POWERPOINT PRESENTATION OF THE BUSINESS MODEL MIGHT NOT REPRESENT THE REAL WORLD. BUT TO BE FAIR, HE DID SAY THAT IT WORKS WELL IF YOU ARE ABLE TO SECURE CARGOES WHEN YOU WANT THEM. TURNS OUT THAT HE CAN’T.

Nottalot Shipping reported a net loss of $11.4m in the previous quarter. CEO Paul Daniels said “We have performed well in trying to trade the market and extract a margin, apart from the last six months. We think we are now back on track”.

SO YOUR DREAM WEAK MARKET COMES ALONG PAUL, BUT YOU LOST A HATFULL OF CASH WHILE PERFORMING WELL? IMAGINE IF YOU HAD PERFORMED BADLY! IT’S STARTING TO LOOK LIKE A LOT OF CONFUSION OVER THE BUSINESS MODEL IN THE REAL WORLD COMPARED TO IN YOUR PRESENTATIONS AND PRESS STATEMENTS.

October 2016:

Nottalot Shipping CEO Paul Daniels stated: “It is not unlikely that next year will be better than this year”.

DON’T ASK ME, I DON’T KNOW EITHER.

November 2016:

Nottalot Shipping’s loss for the most recent quarter reached $7.4m, an improvement on the $11.4m of the previous. “I am pleased to see positive development in our margins” said CEO Paul Daniels. “We are moving in the right direction“.

ONE MIGHT BE BOLD ENOUGH TO POINT OUT THAT IF THE DIRECTION YOU ARE SEEKING AS A BUSINESS IS BANKRUPTCY, THEN YES PAUL, YOU ARE DEFINITELY MOVING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION.

January 2017:

Giving his outlook for the coming year, Nottalot Shipping CEO, Paul Daniels said “We may see more volatility that will enable a company with the same, or similar business model to Nottalot Shipping to trade and try to squeeze a margin even at unsustainably low market levels for asset-heavy companies”.

WHOA WHOA WHOA! HOLD THE 42 BUS TO GLENMAVIS! PAUL IS DEAD RIGHT ISN’T HE? HE’S LOST MONEY AND BANKRUPTED BUSINESSES IN THE VERY MARKET HE HAS ALWAYS SAID WAS SUITED TO HIS BUSINESS MODEL. OTHERS MAY HAVE TAKEN SOME TIME FOR INTROSPECTION AND REVIEW, BUT NOT OUR PAUL. HE’S NOW RECOMMENDING IT TO OTHERS! AND NOBODY APPEARS TO BE POINTING OUT THE INCREDIBLE IRONY OF IT ALL. CLASSIC DOESN’T DO IT JUSTICE.

February 2017:

Nottalot Shipping posted a pre-tax loss for the first nine months of 2016 of $17.8m. CEO Paul Daniels said “I am pleased to see that the positive development in our margins and the operated fleet continue, and that the dry bulk market has shown some signs of life again during the fourth quarter”.

OH PAUL! SO NOW YOU ARE PLEASED THAT YOU ARE LOSING LESS MONEY THAN BEFORE, A PYRRHIC SORT OF VICTORY I MUST SAY. BUT CRUCIALLY AM I DETECTING THAT YOU THINK THE OLD ‘WE MAKE MORE IN A LOW MARKET’ MODEL IS NO LONGER APPLICABLE?

March 2017:

Nottalot Shipping has closed the book on an $18m private placement.

WAY TO GO PAUL! NO REALISTIC BUSINESS MODEL, A TRACK RECORD FOR BANKRUPTCY, DEFAULT AND CHICANERY, SUSTAINED LOSSES DESPITE THE MARKET DOING WHAT YOU SAY IS REQUIRED FOR PROFIT, AND DESPITE THIS, YOU GET THE DOH-REH-MI! BRAVO SIR!

June 2017:

Paul Daniels, CEO of Nottalot Shipping said “It’s not like Old Prospector Shipping, where the whole bet is on value appreciation and a hot dry cargo market. When it comes to this company, it’s about our ability to squeeze a margin out of many small decisions by many people.”

NOW WHERE IN THE HELL HAVE I HEARD THAT LAST QUOTE BEFORE? LET’S REPHRASE PAUL’S FAVOURITE ‘SQUEEZE A MARGIN’ QUOTE. “WHEN IT COMES TO THIS COMPANY, IT’S ABOUT OUR ABILITY TO SQUEEZE MORE CASH OUT OF GULLIBLE INVESTORS AS WE CONTINUE ON OUR QUEST TO CONFUSE THEM WHILE SELLING TEN DOLLAR BILLS FOR FIVE BUCKS A POP”. AND THERE ENDETH A MASTERCLASS IN SHIPPING. IF YOU WANT TO SPEAK TO PAUL ABOUT IT, YOU’LL GET HIM AT HIS SKI LODGE IN ZERMATT, OR MAYBE HIS VILLA IN MARBELLA, OR HIS FLAT IN KNIGHTSBRIGE, OR . . . .