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Judgment day looms large at Euronav earnings call

Euronav euronav vessels under construction
Tanker owner Euronav released a strong set of quarterly results on February 2, but were overshadowed by an upcoming judgment in Euronav’s troubled merger with Frontline.

Clarifying the scope of the judgment expected on February 7, Euronav CEO Hugo de Stoop compared the situation to a divorce where spouses are yet to settle the financial details of their separation and one party wants to sell the marital home.

“An emergency judgment will say you cannot sell the house until we have decided the outcome of the divorce and who gets what. And that's what we're trying to have here. So it's not on the merits - it's not on whether or not there were some damages created, whether or not there was a right to terminate. It's really to see what should be frozen until there is a judgment on the fundamental aspects, which are alled the merits,” said de Stoop.

With another arbitration pending on the merits of the termination of the merger agreement, the legal wrangling kept a lid on most of the discussion around Euronav’s future and its relationship with shareholders Frontline and CMB, but de Stoop said Euronav management is not treating the other parties as hostiles.

“There are three parties around the table and our attitude continues to be very constructive. We're not the type of people who say we are all enemies so let's go to war; I think that we always have to look forward into the future,” said de Stoop.

The three parties involved are Euronav itself, Compagnie Maritime Belgique (CMB) and its owners the Saverys family, and the various companies that make up the interests of Frontline and its owner John Fredriksen. The CMB camp has a 25% stake in Euronav, and Frontline and its associates have around a 24.99% stake.

The quarrel between the parties is over a merger agreement between Frontline and Euronav signed last year. Frontline last month unilaterally decided to terminate that agreement. Euronav is seeking legal recourse over the termination of the contract, while CMB has resisted the merger of Frontline and Euronav since the start.

“Every problem has a solution, and as long as the three parties have the same attitude, I'm sure that we will find a very positive outcome that will be beneficial for all the shareholders. Probably nobody will have the perfect solution that they want for themselves, but it will be a compromise and we very much hope that that will be the case.”

De Stoop revealed that Euronav has split its management team to allow some members to focus on the ongoing Frontline saga while others focus on day-to-day operations. The team’s general outlook was pro-consolidation, he said.

“Do we believe in consolidation? Absolutely. Do we believe in growth? Absolutely. We do believe that going forward, markets deserve to be consolidated and can be consolidated. There's a number of advantages to consolidating the market.”

“As far as Euronav is concerned, we definitely continue to believe that bigger is better. We do believe that there are economies that can come with it. We do believe that the way we can service our clients who themselves are becoming bigger and bigger, will be better,” said de Stoop.