In Belgium and The Netherlands Fortis Bank has always been the largest shipping finance bank that has financed and still finances many international sea trade companies and shipping ventures. I know all this as a few years ago I did an internship with Fortis Bank’s Shipping Finance Trading division in Antwerp, Belgium and Rotterdam, The Netherlands and have learned a lot about how extending loans to shipping and trading companies can help international trade in Europe.
One of the things most people don’t know much about is that in the world, especially Antwerp’s port has been one of the most important harbors for international ships to go to. Since the 16th century Antwerp has been an important harbor for ships coming from the Belgium colonies in mainly Africa to bring spices, wines, gold and silver. A well-kept secret of these shipping ventures is that most of the sea ventures where mostly financed with debt, most of the time perhaps around 50-80% debt, which made each sea venture of a ship actually a financial nightmare of most investors. Here came the shipping companies that converted these so called debt obligations, which in common Flemish where called persoonlijke lening, were combined into what can be considered a mutual fund. Eventually they created limited companies giving out shares so they could finance their own ventures and become even less risky to individual investors. And this was also probably the reason why many western European countries such as Belgium and The Netherlands were the most powerful countries in the world for over a century. Back then they ruled the seas and captured the most profitable colonies. The shipping finance companies were behind this structuring making the individual sea ventures less risky for the individual investor and shares a collective risk-return reward.