Location Spotlight: Seaboard Overseas Trading & Shipping Durban Office

Location Spotlight: Seaboard Overseas Trading & Shipping Durban Office

Affiliate: Seaboard Overseas Trading & Shipping (Pty) Ltd. (referred to as ‘SOTS’)

Location: Durban, South Africa

Year Opened: 1996

Products/Services offered by SOTS:

SOTS trades commodities both domestically and internationally, for supply into the flour milling and animal feed industries. These include primarily wheat, white and yellow maize (corn), soybeans and soy meal, cotton seed meal, sunflower pellets and sorghum. Our support services manage the entire supply chain from source to destination, facilitating both import and exports, as well as local and cross-border deliveries to our clients. Global Risk Management for the Seaboard Overseas Trading Group is based in the Durban office.

A normal day in the office:

From the first arrival to work in the morning until the lights are switched off in the evening, it is usually a 7am – 7pm office day. With mobile technology as it is; however, many staff members start their days via e-mail earlier and finish off late at night. Whatever it takes to keep the vessels sailing, the mills grinding and the wheels turning!

No two days are the same in the Durban office. We follow the ebbs and flows of the grain and oil seed industries which are seasonal, dynamic and volatile. A brief outline for each department of the ‘typical’ daily activities is as follows:

COMMODITY TRADING

The Durban office covers trading and related services into the following destinations:

  • Namibia
  • South Africa
  • Lesotho
  • Swaziland
  • Mozambique
  • Botswana
  • Malawi
  • Zambia
  • Tanzania
  • Kenya
  • Uganda
  • Rwanda
  • Burundi

Approximately 15% of our traded volumes are to Seaboard Affiliates, while 85% are to third party customers.

Durban traders typically start the day checking e-mails that have come in overnight. This is for them to catch up on world news and industry communications pertaining to the international markets that we source commodities from, and the regions into which we trade. We deal with urgent vessel operations and logistics issues that may have arisen since the previous day. We discuss with the various support teams and make decisions on actions to be taken to ensure smooth running of our shipments and deliveries.

Our open-plan office facilitates the close interaction among the traders regarding market views, positions taken or being considered, sourcing of commodities and general market dynamics.

When daily price lists are sent out, they are usually sent out via e-mail within the first couple of hours of the morning.

SAFEX (South African Futures Exchange), is open from 9am to 12pm daily, and our traders of local commodity do pricing throughout this time on behalf of clients and for our own positions.

The traders then make several calls to brokers and suppliers all over the world, as well as to customers. So, this forms a clear picture of supply and demand dynamics for the day, what various market views are, prices at which demand will be stimulated and similarly prices at which we are most likely to be able to source commodity. It is important to arrive at price discovery in our markets, but also to identify the drivers of those prices and what potential ‘game changers’ lie ahead (weather, international tenders, government interventions, etc.,) in order for us to effectively position ourselves and to provide credible advice to our customers.

Imported commodities, it is typically during the afternoon and into the evenings when most of our trading takes place, as by then our customers have received sufficient information and time to make their buying decisions. Then, our procurement on imports extends into the late afternoon and evenings. Negotiations continue via calls, Skype, WhatsApp, etc., until all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed. It usually includes several discussions with our Athens office regarding the ocean freight, which is an integral part of the trades we enter into. This step is crucial to the successful executions of these trades and to their financial outcomes.

Our Trade Administrators are invaluable to the Traders, in that they ensure all the all data input for the trading activities of the Traders is captured into our Trading and Logistics system every day. Also, that the data is checked and verified through reconciliation with Broker statements, e-mail confirmations and purchase contracts. They are first line of input, and thereafter all subsequent activities by the various support departments build on this data. Data integrity checking is crucial to the accurate execution and ultimately the accurate reporting of the Trading activities of SOTS.

SOL RISK MANAGEMENT

The risk department is involved with various compliance and risk tasks that ensure that SOL trading offices adhere to both, Seaboard Corporation policies and the rules set out by the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).

We check SOL positions daily and discuss positions with the various offices where a position is not in compliance, or data has not been correctly captured. Position reports are sent to all traders daily and to a Corp compliance officer on a weekly basis.

The derivatives traded are verified against broker statements on a weekly basis. We liaise with all the offices to ensure that the overall position limits for SOL are not exceeded, and that SOL remains in compliance with Seaboard Corporation policies. Also, we are a sounding board for traders who want to enter into certain hedges and need to check the validity as well as the effect on overall positions before implementing the hedges.

Where temporary or permanent increases in trading limits are required, we will draw up the motivation and the draft policy for the changes for the EVP SOL and Corp to approve the new positions/policy.

We do daily checks and sign off on FEC trades, and the physical trades they are associated with to ensure that the requirements are met and that no speculation on currency occurs. The overall FEC limits are checked weekly and compared to Policy limits.

Every new counter party is verified to check that we comply with OFAC regulations. An OFAC report regarding all counterparts captured in our trading system is sent to Corp every week. From time to time on request of senior management, special audits are done on a shipment or a special case.

For the Durban Office, we check and countersign every contract to verify that the contract going to the counter party agrees to the trade information received from the trader. In order to ensure that the terms and clauses are in line with what has been approved for the counter party. For new counter parties, we will check that the necessary approvals for the counter party have been done and that where credit is extended it is done under the Credit Guarantee Insurance Company, backed by L/C, other financial instruments, or with the necessary approval from senior management.

Every credit note is checked and counter-signed at the Durban Office. In addition, we attend the weekly Debtors meeting to monitor the payments and accounts of counterparts, and verify that their payment terms are adhered to. We are involved in the discussions regarding customers that are unable to meet their commitments.

The challenges of this department are numerous. SOL has so many trades and hedges, that ensuring that the data in the trading system is correct is one of the biggest challenges.

VESSEL OPERATIONS

The Durban Office covers shipments to-and-from South and East Africa. We are responsible for both commodity contract execution and vessel operations.

A typical day would consist of checking charter party fixtures/lifting subs/fixing clean, sending vessel nominations, documentary instructions and import permits to suppliers. The department is also responsible for communicating load port/disport agent details and liaising with owners, agents and service providers to ensure efficient load/discharge operations of the vessels. This is extremely important considering the many vessels loading/discharging during the same period, and effective communication/monitoring is vital.

We work closely with the Seaboard Bulk Services office in Athens, Greece. They are responsible for chartering the vessels that carry our grains. We are in constant contact with them on various issues regarding current and intended freight fixtures.

Respective operators also check and approve shipping documents, arrange commodity and freight payments and ensure that commodity invoices to receivers are prepared and sent out.

Lay-time calculations are also prepared, finalized and paid or invoiced accordingly. Monthly reporting includes preparing vessel freight PNL’s, vessel movement list, charterer’s liability spreadsheet, Kenya/Uganda insurance spreadsheet, vessel statistics reports, freight position report and a vessel ETA update is sent daily.

Vessel operations extends 24/7 and 365 day a year, requiring attention to detail, timely responses and actions, and a depth of knowledge and experience. Effective communication with the traders and the chartering office is key to efficient contract execution and vessel operations. Ultimately, to the ‘bottom line’ on import/export trades.

LOGISTICS

Logistics in South Africa is very interesting, and in any situation, can go from simple to extremely complex vice versa all on the same day.

The Durban Logistics Department is made up of five teams, each focused on specialized service delivery, namely:

  • Local Grain Logistics
  • Local Protein Logistics
  • Import Protein Logistics
  • Import Grain Logistics
  • Clearing & Forwarding (Imports & Exports)

For the Import Logistics Teams, the day starts with their focus on progress of vessels in port or on their way. Then, ticking the progress boxes to ensure that cargo delivery instructions for the previous day were successfully executed. This action automatically triggers the next round of delivery plans and arrangements. For the Logistics Controller Assistants, the first stop of the day is to verify stock movements from the previous day. As well as to ensure that our records balance with all of our storage facilities.

Regular and clear communication with our clients and service providers is of utmost importance. A large portion of our day is spent on the phone and communicating via e-mails with clients, transporters and other service providers who all contribute to the successful execution of the sales contract.

For the Local Logistics Team, keeping track of stock at each facility is the first order of business every day. Then, reconciling the previous days loading and offloading activities, and then starting the planning all over again for the next day. The team is kept busy early in the day because a large portion of our sales are done on a delivered-basis. So, some days would start much earlier than others. Up to date information is extremely crucial in order to keep track of all the deliveries. Also, to ensure the deliveries are on time because some clients operate on just-in-time scheduling.

Our Local Team delivers grains throughout South Africa and across borders to mills in our neighboring countries. We have recently started importing soybean meal from Zambia to South Africa via road transport – a new learning curve for us!

The Clearing & Forwarding team is responsible for compliance in terms of the various Government Agencies and Departments to ensure that cargoes imported and exported can be used for its intended purpose. A normal day would consist of catching up with overnight correspondence, compiling and submitting clearing entries for either import or export cargoes. Then, a trip into the Customs office, Port Health, Department of Agriculture and the Perishable Product Export Control Board.

Thereafter, it’s back to the office to distribute all the information and documentation that will allow the smooth flow of cargoes into our ports and over our borders to our clients.

FINANCE & ADMINISTRATION

There always is a friendly hustle and bustle in the accounting department. This is to ensure all the daily payments, processing and reporting deadlines are completed.

The structure of the department includes: Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, Cash Management and Vessel Accounting.

The Cash Management area is very time driven and structured. In the morning cash flow, forward exchange contacts and SAFEX funding i.e., local brokerage all need to be processed and paid before 12am every day. That objective is then followed by the afternoon batch of payments for other supplier payments in the various currencies (ZAR/EUR/USD).

To achieve these payment deadlines, the Accounts Receivable and Accounts Payable teams must work together like a well-tuned clock. We do this to ensure all documentation and invoices are being processed, receipts are being allocated to customer accounts and payments batches are being ran.

Due to high volumes of daily transactions being processed, it is critical to ensure accurate daily processing to achieve all our reporting commitments.

These processes and account allocations all impact the Vessel Accountants, who then must reconcile the accounting entries in Peoplesoft, and determine the month-end vessel P&L’s (4B’s) and compare to the trader’s budget on the Fusion Trading System.

These daily processes all lead to the inevitable “MONTHEND madness,” which all the departments are very familiar with!

 

How many employees/collaborators work at SOTS?

There are 54 employees in the Durban office, and 4 in the Kenya office. The Kenya office reports directly to the Durban office. This includes Trading (10), Trading Admin (4), Finance (10), Administration (7), Trade Risk/IT (4), Vessel Operations/Execution (6), Logistics (15) and Compliance (2).

 

What are the typical daily challenges SOTS faces?

To begin with, working with different time zones is challenging. Especially when a transaction is urgent, but due process still needs to be followed. Also, communication to some of our remote destinations can also prove to be a challenge. Often countries have poor phone lines and power cuts, etc. Also, language interpretation can be a little tricky since we work with many diverse countries language-wise.

What is the latest project or improvement SOTS went through?

In 2017 we went LIVE on “Fusion.” “Fusion” is a new generation Trading and Logistics system which is user friendly, robust, accurate and real time.  Subsequently, most of our trading offices, including our newest affiliates Eurafrique in Monaco, implemented Fusion.

 

Are there any new projects developing in SOTS, if so can you provide details about them?

SOTS have undertaken a feasibility study to increase our footprint in the soybean crushing industry in South Africa.

 

What makes SOTS unique or different to others? 

Being both a milling and a trading company is what sets us apart from our competitors in the trading environment.   We have a dynamic, multi-faceted office with dedicated and friendly staff.

 

What was the last social event, gathering, or celebration you had at SOTS? 

The office gets together annually for our Christmas Party – usually a lunch at a local venue.  However, a highlight for the office is our team building events, which usually take place every 2nd year.  Our last team building, in 2016, involved team games and challenges and culminated in a ‘cook-off’. This year’s team building event is currently in the planning phase.

 

The Landmark “Moses Mabhida” Stadium, built for the 2010 World Cup

How’s life in Durban? Weather, economy, infrastructure, traffic, government, society, etc.? 

Durban is on the east coast of Africa and is a wonderful place to live. Durban has mild temperatures throughout the year and warm ocean waters suitable for all year-round swimming, surfing and fishing.  In the summer months, it can however be very humid.  Durban is a melting-pot of cultures, having the largest Indian community outside of India in the world. The cultures consist of Zulu-speaking locals, a large contingent of English-speaking inhabitants and a fair amount of Afrikaans speaking citizens.

Tourist beaches and Durban Port in the background

Durban’s port is the busiest port in Africa; therefore, it is a hub for manufacturing. Also, and a lot of industry and economic activity is centered around the imports/exports.  A number of the major businesses – particularly in the service sector – have relocated from the city center to the north of Durban. For example, Umhlanga, where our offices are located and further north along the coast towards the International Airport.

Traffic can very congested at peak early morning and evening hours, exacerbated by the fact that we are on the coastline to the East. Thus there are not many alternatives to the main highways connecting the west, south and north areas of Durban.

Durbanites enjoy an active lifestyle, with mountain biking, road running and trail runs, water sports etc.  People of all ages, abilities and backgrounds enjoy these activities.

Tranquility, adventure and beauty of the Drakensberg Mountains

What is special about SOTS’ location? Touristic spots or interesting things to see and do, etc. 

Durban is a tourist hot-spot because of its sunny climate, beautiful beaches, unique culture and various attractions.  Also, there are wildlife parks within a 2-3-hour drive from the city which allow unique safari experiences for a weekend getaway.  The city is also 3 hours away from the Drakensberg Mountains, a World Heritage site. This site boasts spectacular views, hiking and other out-door activities, and resorts to suit every taste and budget.

Big 5 Safari Parks provide a unique experience for locals and visitors