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Building a Ship’s Financial Profile

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2014 issue.

It has long been held that Traveller is not “Accurate Adventures in Accounting”, and that the economic system is broken. The point is often made that the inability to make sufficient money to stay up-to-date on a ship’s mortgage is a feature, not a bug, since it effectively forces the party into ‘adventures’, which is the point of Traveller, rather than simply ‘playing it safe’ and being merchants. Nevertheless, it’s not uncommon for a party – especially one made of inexperienced players – to want to try straight merchanting for a while.

Officially, the Imperial calendar divides a standard year only into days and weeks; no other divisions are formalized. However, ship’s operating expenses are incurred on multiple bases, including per jump, annually, ‘monthly’, and perhaps daily, while revenues are accrued basically on a per-jump basis.

With the multiple periods involved, it becomes difficult to see at a glance where one stands in terms of making sufficient money to cover all expenses, and thus in turn to make decisions regarding such things as whether to hire a broker, and at what skill level. Naturally, one could go ‘full out’ and keep detailed records, like a bookkeeper would, but that’s often more tedious than players want to be involved with. Building the ship’s financial profile offers the players a way to see essentially at a glance whether they have sufficient income to cover expenses.

The first step to building the ship’s financial profile is to list out the various expenses and the basis on which they are incurred:
 

Cost Item Incurrence Period
Mortgage Monthly
Life Support Per-Jump
Port Fees Per Jump
Jump Fuel Per Jump
Power Plant Fuel Monthly
Annual Maintenance Annually
Crew Salaries Monthly

“Monthly” means twelve times per year, at approximate 30-day intervals.

A merchant starship, under optimum conditions, spends approximately a week in jump, followed by a week in port debarking passengers, delivering freight, selling cargo, buying the next batch of cargo, and contracting for more passengers and more freight. Thus, with 52 weeks in a standard year, and taking two weeks for annual maintenance, a ship will make 25 jumps per year. This makes converting directly from “monthly” to per-jump awkward. So, as a first step, annualize the monthly costs, by multiplying by 12. Now, all of our costs are expressed as either per-jump or annual. Converting from annual to per-jump is easy: divide by 25. (Even easier: Double, double again, and shift the decimal point two places to the left.) Add up the per-jump costs thus arrived at; this final figure is your necessary per-jump income. It’s probably not a bad idea to set out the per-jump, “monthly”, and annual costs in a tabular worksheet – but the only column you really need is the per-jump.

Income is a bit trickier to figure. First, unless you’re really lucky, you’re not likely to be running full all the time. Second, the cost of cargo is variable. Your income figures, therefore, want to be broken out into separate lines: Passengers, Freight, and Cargo. Calculate each as follows:

Passenger Income: Multiply the number of staterooms available for passengers by the middle passage rate; this represents your maximum passenger income. Multiply this figure by what you estimate your long-term average percentage of capacity to be, e.g., if you have six passenger staterooms, and estimate that you’ll average four passengers per trip, multiply your maximum passenger income by two-thirds. This final figure represents your expected average passenger income.

Freight: Multiply the hold size by the standard freight carriage price. This represents your maximum freight revenue. Multiply by your estimated freight carriage utilization, e.g., if you assume that a 100-ton hold will be 33% full of freight, multiply the maximum freight revenue by 33%. This final figure represents your expected average freight revenue.

Cargo: Unlike with passengers and freight, you do not calculate an expected average revenue; instead, you calculate the required profit per ton. Multiply your hold size by your estimated cargo utilization. This is your estimated cargo tonnage. Note that your estimated cargo utilization plus your estimated freight carriage utilization must not exceed 100%. Add your average expected freight revenue and expected average passenger revenue, then subtract the total from your per-jump cost figure. Now, divide the result by your estimated cargo tonnage. This final figure is the required profit per ton of cargo.

An example, using the Beowulf-class Free Trader, might be clearer: From Book 2, we have the following description:

Using a 200-ton hull, the free trader is an elementary interstellar merchant ship plying the space lanes carrying cargo and passengers. It has jump drive-A, maneuver drive-A, and power plant-A, giving performance of jump-1 and 1-G acceleration. There is fuel tankage for 30 tons, sufficient for the power plant and one jump-1. Adjacent to the bridge is a computer Model/1. There are ten staterooms and twenty low berths. No turrets or weaponry are installed, but there are two hardpoints and two tons are set aside for fire control. There are no ship's vehicles. Cargo capacity is 82 tons. The hull is streamlined. The free trader requires a crew of four: pilot, engineer, medic, and steward. Gunners may be carried if the ship is armed. The ship costs MCr37.08 and takes 11 months to build.

We assume one jump per two weeks, with transit to/from the jump points requiring a total of about a day, leaving six days in port. Annual maintenance is performed once per year, for two weeks; the money that would normally go for (stateroom) life support for this period is instead used for the crew’s off-ship expenses for this period (hotels, dining, entertainment, etc.). There is no separate port fee charged during annual maintenance; it is included in the cost of the maintenance.

Cost factors are as follows, using the figures from Book 2: The mortgage payment, made monthly, is 1/240 of MCr37.08, or Cr154,500. Annual Maintenance is 1/1,000 of MCr37.08, or Cr37,080. Crew salaries, also paid monthly, and assuming the minimum acceptable skill levels, are Cr6,000 (Pilot-1) + Cr4,000 (Engineer-1) + Cr3,300 (Steward-1) + Cr2,000 (Medic-1), or Cr15,300. Jump Fuel is purchased per-jump, 20 tons at Cr500 per ton, or Cr10,000. Power plant fuel is purchased monthly, 10 tons at Cr500 per ton, or Cr5,000. Life Support for 10 staterooms, per jump, is Cr2,000 each (total Cr20,000) and for 20 low berths is Cr100 each, or Cr2,000 – but only if the low berth is occupied. Port fees, though calculated weekly and daily, actually accrue per jump, and will likely not require the overstay charge, so Cr100 per jump. These figures are entered in bold in the following table:

 

Cost Item Per Jump
(25 per year)
Per Month
(12 per year)
Annual
Mortgage Cr74,160 Cr154,500 Cr1,854,000
Life Support: Staterooms Cr20,000/Cr20,800   *Cr520,000
Life Support: Low Berths Cr2,000   Cr50,000
Crew Salaries Cr7,344 Cr15,300 Cr183,600
Jump Fuel Cr10,000   Cr250,000
Power Plant Fuel Cr2,400 Cr5,000 Cr60,000
Annual Maintenace Cr1,484   Cr37,080
Port Fees Cr100   Cr2,500
Totals Cr117,488/Cr118,288   Cr2,957,180

The next step is annualizing the cost, which means multiplying the per-jump figures by 25, and the monthly figures by 12. The results are shown in the table in italics. Note that the annualized figure for Life Support: Staterooms includes an extra Cr20,000; this accounts for the crew expenses during the annual maintenance period.

Finally, the annualized figures should be reduced to per-jump figures (underlined italic in the table) by dividing by 25. Note that there are two figures for Life Support: Staterooms because of the “missing” two weeks for annual maintenance – the bold figure is the original per-jump cost; the underlined-italic figure is the per-jump reduction of the annualized cost (with the extra two weeks’ cost). The “bottom line” is that a Beowulf can expect to incur operating costs of Cr118,288 per jump, at most.

Costs are only half of the profile, though. The next step is to determine average expected revenues, and the level of profit required on speculative trade. It can be assumed that running completely full, with the maximum number of passengers in all classes and a full hold, will be vanishingly rare. Thus, one should estimate what percentage of full capacity will be used over time, and build the revenue worksheet on that basis. How you decide on that percentage is at your discretion; the location of your campaign, the general amount of trade, the question of large-ship vs. small-ship universe, etc., all come into play.

For the purposes of this example, we will make the assumptions and estimates shown below. Note that these are only for illustrative purposes, and may not reflect realistic expectations for any particular campaign.

All estimates are per-jump, and all passengers, cargo, and freight will leave the ship (be sold if cargo, be delivered if freight, or debark at destination if passenger) after one jump.

Of the six staterooms available for passengers (the remaining four are reserved for the crew), an average of four will be occupied. These will be assumed to be Mid passages.

Of the twenty low berths available, an average of seven will be occupied.

Of the eighty-four tons of hold space, fifty tons will, on average, be filled with Spec cargo, and fifteen will, on average, be filled with consignment freight. It is expected that cargo will be purchased to the maximum available that can be fit to the hold, and then as much freight as can be fit in the remainder, to the maximum available, will be accepted for consignment.

The revenue expectations, again using figures from Book 2, are thus:
 

Mid Passengers: Cr8,000 each 4 = Cr32,000
Low Passengers: Cr1,000 each 7 = Cr7,000
Freight: Cr1,000 per dton 15 dtons = Cr15,000
Total “fixed” revenue per jump = Cr32,000 + Cr15,000 + Cr7,000 = Cr54,000

Once the fixed revenue is determined, it is subtracted from the per-jump costs: Cr118,288 – Cr54,000 = Cr64,288. This remainder is divided by the cargo tonnage (50 dtons) to determine how much profit per ton is needed to cover the ship’s costs: Cr64,288 / 50 dtons = Cr1,286 per dton. Note that this is an average, over the long term. If sufficient liquidity is available, falling below this level for a few jumps (a run of bad luck) need not place the ship in financial distress, but if it goes on too long, it may be necessary to rethink the estimates.

It should be noted that some versions of Traveller vary revenues based on distance, and may vary some costs the same way. When preparing a financial profile under those versions, assume costs on the basis of the ship’s maximum jump, but assume revenues on the basis of jump-1. This represents, in essence, the worst-case assumptions, and thus if profits are sufficient to cover costs under those assumptions, they can be expected to cover costs under most conditions, with a failure less likely.