The world’s biggest ship finance conference is back in the Big Apple, and at first blush it looks almost exactly like the event staged every June before the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

But there are some differences as organisers stage Marine Money Week for the 34th time.

One of them is that a panel in which equity analysts get grilled by Scorpio Tankers president Robert Bugbee — formerly the conference’s crowning event on a Thursday afternoon — has been moved to warm-up status on the opening Tuesday.

Then there are the analysts themselves. Once upon a time there used to be 10 researchers up on the dais.

But it’s been a tough few years for the analysts, as several banks have cleared out of shipping research, and there were just four stockpickers on the panel this time.

Meanwhile, two former panellists — ex-Jefferies researcher Randy Giveans and his incoming successor, Omar Nokta — were roaming the lobby networking as the session approached.

Giveans left in April to join Navigator Holdings. Nokta is still on gardening leave after quitting as head of US research for Clarksons Platou Securities.

“It’s the first time we’ve had an analyst panel sponsored by Jefferies and they’re not supplying an analyst,” needled Bugbee. The bank has suspended shipping coverage pending Nokta’s arrival next month.

“I’d like to thank Jefferies as well,” responded Turner Holm, who has moved into Nokta’s old slot after his former colleague was poached by the competitor.

Back in the pre-Covid days, that would have been just one of many zingers from Bugbee in his moderator’s role.

But it was a kinder, gentler Scorpio executive prompting the relatively young panel of Holm, Jurgen Lian of DNB Markets, Tate Sullivan of Maxim Group and the greybeard, Ben Nolan of Stifel.

Randy Giveans (left), then of Jefferies, and Scorpio Tankers president Robert Bugbee appear at the TradeWinds Shipowners Forum in February 2020. Photo: Johnathon Henninger/TradeWinds Events

“I’ve been around long enough to see a few cycles,” Nolan said. “It’s interesting to me that there’s only four of us up here because today my job is more important than it’s ever been. There are so many strange things happening out there.

“Back in 2005 and 2006, we were really popular guys. You could say almost anything because [the stock] was going up. Now everything is not going up. It’s harder than it used to be, but that’s why I have a job.”

On the business end of things, there was some disagreement about what’s in store for the heretofore raging container ship sector.

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Sullivan still likes the segment, and specifically endorsed Euroseas with a 7% dividend yield and a fleet of feeder container ships.

But Lian was wary.

“I think the orderbook is menacing,” he said. “This is shipping repeating itself, I’m afraid. It’s hard to see how it’s going to turn out well in the long run with 30% of the fleet on order and maybe another 10% that is being held up on inefficiencies that can turn around very quickly.”

Holm said investors need to “do your homework” overall in shipping investments.

“There’s only four of us on this panel during a multi-year up-cycle — it’s under-analysed,” he said.