Maersk’s Profit Tumbles on Weak Freight Rates, Low Oil Prices

Danish conglomerate continues to be hurt by slowing global trade and shipping overcapacity

A gantry crane loaded a Maersk branded container onto a truck at a container terminal in Busan, South Korea, earlier this year.
A gantry crane loaded a Maersk branded container onto a truck at a container terminal in Busan, South Korea, earlier this year. PHOTO:BLOOMBERG NEWS

Danish shipping-and-oil company A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S said third-quarter profit plunged 43% as sustained weak freight rates and low oil prices continued to batter its performance.

Maersk’s shares sank as much as 9% on the news Wednesday. Investors fear the worst isn’t yet over in the shipping industry—the company’s biggest market, which is struggling to emerge from the deepest down-cycle in 30 years.

Maersk Line, the group’s shipping unit and the world’s biggest container operator, swung to a loss of $122 million, from a $243 million profit a year ago.

Net profit for the group dropped to $429 million from $755 million a year earlier, as revenue fell 9% to $9.18 billion. Analysts forecast a profit of $496 million and revenue of $9.39 billion for the quarter, according to FactSet estimates.

Maersk kept its full-year profit guidance at below $1 billion, significantly lower than last year’s $3.1 billion, due to developments in the global economy, container freight rates and weak oil prices.

“The result is unsatisfactory, driven by low prices,” group Chief Executive Soren Skousaid. “Maersk Line for the second quarter in a row reported a loss due to continued low freight rates, [which are] down 16% year-on-year.”

The company did, however, outperform the market. It said the container volume it shipped for the quarter was up 11% on year compared with between 2% and 3% for the industry.

Troubled WatersMaersk net incomeTHE WALL STREET JOURNALSource: the company
.billion4Q20141Q’152Q3Q4Q1Q’162Q3Q-3-2-101$2

“They are rapidly winning market share,” said Lars Jensen, chief executive of SeaIntelligence Consulting in Copenhagen. “Their competitors must now choose to either relinquish it [market share] to Maersk or reignite a price war, which they probably can’t afford. When freight rates eventually go up, Maersk will benefit the most.”

Maersk Line moves around 15% of global seaborne freight and is seen as a barometer of global trade.

Container ships move 98% of the world’s manufactured goods, from iPhones and toys to designer dresses and heavy machinery. But slowing global trade and a glut of shipping capacity in the water, estimated at 30% above demand, have pushed freight rates to levels barely covering fuel, driving most operators deeply into the red.

Global trade is forecast to grow by just 1.7% this year, marking the slowest pace since the 2008 financial crisis, according the World Trade Organization.

Freight rates have averaged less than $700 a container a month since the start of last year on the benchmark Asia-to-Europe trade route with the break-even point at $1,400. Shipping executives estimate the top 20 operators will post combined losses of as much as $10 billion this year.

The downturn has prompted a rare wave of consolidation among the industry’s top 20 operators and so far pushed a handful of companies out of business. Korea’s Hanjin Shipping Co., the world’s seventh biggest player, filed for bankruptcy protection in August. Maersk said last week it will be chartering six of Hanjin’s biggest ships.

“Maersk Line continues to face challenging market conditions and as a testimony to the situation the container industry saw its first major bankruptcy in 30 years,” the company said.

Japan’s top three shipping companies— Nippon Yusen K.K., Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. and Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha—said Monday they would merge the container operations to fight the industry’s downturn through synergies.

Maersk initiated in September a wide-ranging reshuffle that will see the group split into two businesses, one focusing on transport and logistics and the other on energy. Implementation is progressing and further details will be provided at the group’s capital markets day next month, it said.

Maersk Oil is one month into a three-month review of its organization as it adjusts to the low oil price environment and makes changes to both its portfolio and long-term growth plans. The unit managed to slash costs by a fifth in the quarter and it said it can now break even with an oil price below $40 a barrel, having previously needed prices at between $40-$45 a barrel.

Maersk Oil contributed a profit of $146 million, up from $32 million a year earlier.

Write to Costas Paris at costas.paris@wsj.com and Dominic Chopping at dominic.chopping@wsj.com

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2 Responses to “Maersk’s Profit Tumbles on Weak Freight Rates, Low Oil Prices”

  1. Maersk’s Profit Tumbles on Weak Freight Rates, Low Oil Prices — Peace and Freedom | Brittius Says:

    […] via Maersk’s Profit Tumbles on Weak Freight Rates, Low Oil Prices — Peace and Freedom […]

  2. daveyone1 Says:

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

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