Maersk Line slumped to a $599 million operating loss in the first quarter from a $424 million profit a year earlier as collapsing freight rates on the key Asia-Europe route outweighed double-digit growth in container volume.
But Danish parent A.P. Moller-Maersk upgraded its 2012 forecast for the carrier to “negative up to neutral” from a loss guidance in February on the assumption rate hikes since March will continue through the year.
Revenue grew to $6.3 billion from $5.9 billion in the first quarter of 2011 and traffic jumped 18 percent to 4.4 million 20-foot equivalent units. The average freight rate slipped 9 percent to $2,646 per 40-foot container for a loss of $263 on each box transported against a $217 profit a year ago.
The world’s largest carrier lost $162 million before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization compared with a $779 million profit in the opening three months of 2011.
Maersk Line’s first quarter operating loss compares with a $602 million loss for the whole of 2011 and a record $2.6 billion profit in 2010.
Asia-Europe volumes grew 22 percent, driven by a 39 percent surge in backhaul volume, but freight rates on the route, which accounted for 37 percent of Maersk Line’s traffic, were down 21 percent.
Freight rates retreated 5 percent on the Pacific as traffic grew 21 percent and were 8 percent lower on a 23 percent increase in volume on Latin American trades.
Maersk said it maintained its market share in December through the first quarter of 2012.
The outlook for the rest of the year is very sensitive to changes in market balance, the Copenhagen-based carrier said. Global demand for seaborne containers is expected to increase by 4-6 percent in 2012, with lower increases on the Asia-Europe trade but higher growth on North-South routes.
APM Terminals, the group’s container handling unit, boosted profit to $235 million from $141 million, aided by a gain of $73 million from disposals. Revenue rose 1 percent to $1.2 billion from $1 billion and traffic was up 10 percent at 8.6 million TEUs despite declining volumes in Europe.
A.P. Moller-Maersk booked a $1.2 billion profit in the quarter, 1 percent higher than a year ago, despite a 1 percent decline in revenue to $14.3 billion. If divestment gains and one-off income from a tax dispute in Algeria are excluded, however, the group recorded a zero profit.
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