The year started with a good level of activity in the VLGC market, demonstrating the importance of our business in a context marked by global geopolitical and economic uncertainties.
Our ambitious project to retrofit 15 of our Very Large Gas Carriers is also completed, and we now own and operate the world’s only fleet of retrofitted LPG-powered vessels, and the world’s largest fleet to be powered by LPG. This is part of our strategy for smarter shipping – we decarbonise operations, deliver strong financial performance, and invest in innovation and technology.
Strong financial performance
In the first quarter, we achieved a strong Time Charter Equivalent (TCE) rate of USD 40,400 per available day with a high commercial utilisation of 96%. We generated a net profit after tax of USD 58 million and an earnings per share of USD 0.41. Buoyed by strong performance lowering our net leverage ratio to 25% in Q1 2022, the Board has declared a cash dividend of USD 0.31 per share amounting to USD 42 million. This translates to a pay-out ratio of 75% of NPAT for the quarter.
As at the end of March, our available liquidity of USD 651 million and net leverage ratio of 25% are our highest and lowest since listing. We are therefore in a solid financial position to withstand any short to medium term volatility, and to invest in the right opportunities for future growth. In Q1, we generated USD 164 million in operating cash flows and USD 249 million in free cash flows.
Returning value to shareholders
Our strong cashflow has allowed us to return value to our shareholders in several ways. First, it has allowed us to aggressively pay down our debt. We will voluntarily prepay USD 268 million of debt by the end of Q2. Second, we have enhanced our dividend policy to target a quarterly pay-out ratio of 75% of NPAT when our net leverage ratio is below 30%. With a net leverage ratio at 25% this quarter, we have declared an interim dividend of USD 0.31 per share which translates to a pay-out ratio of 75% of NPAT. And third, we announced our share buy-back program in December last year and as of the end of Q1, we have purchased 3.8 million shares amounting to approximately USD 21 million.
A more positive view of 2023
Our more optimistic outlook is driven by a belief in better supported market fundamentals such as higher energy prices and growing support for LPG as a transitional fuel, despite uncertainties from heavy newbuilding delivery schedule.
The world needs LPG, and this is perfectly demonstrated in today’s energy situation. Since the start of 2022, WTI has increased by 40%, natural gas has more than doubled and European naphtha has jumped by 24%, while LPG prices have increased by only 8% – making it more competitively priced for both industrial and retail uses. LPG as a cleaner-burning fuel continues to play a vital role in helping the world meet its energy demand in a flexible manner that can integrate well with renewable energy production.
LPG is part of the solution toward a sustainable future, and we are honoured to be selected to form part of the OBX ESG index that comprises 40 companies listed in Norway that demonstrate good ESG practices.