AP Møller-Maersk forecast a plunge in profitability this year and a probable contraction in global trade as two boom years in container shipping grind to a halt.

The Danish company, the world’s second-largest container shipping group, forecast underlying operating profits this year to be $2bn-$5bn, down from the record $31bn it made last year. It made $5.1bn in the fourth quarter alone, even as freight rates normalised.

“As we enter a year with challenging macro-outlook and new types of uncertainties for our customers, we are determined to speed up our business transformation and increase our operational excellence to seize the unique opportunities in front of us,” said Vincent Clerc, Maersk’s new chief executive.

Clerc, who took over as chief executive on January 1, faces a tricky situation: the company made record results in 2022 after pent-up demand from the Covid-19 pandemic caused rates to soar, but this year looks far tougher.

Maersk said it expected global container demand to be between minus 2.5 per cent and plus 0.5 per cent, a significant step-down after years of growth.

Revenues in 2022 increased by a third to $82bn while operating profit rose by 57 per cent to $31bn.

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