Danish shipping giant AP Moller-Maersk said on Wednesday that it booked record earnings in the first quarter on the back of surging demand during the coronavirus pandemic. 

For the first three months of the year, the world’s biggest freight company posted net profit of €2.3 billion. This is almost as much as the group made in the full-year 2020 and a 13-fold increase over the figure for the first quarter of 2020, Maersk said in a statement.

Sales, which were already announced at the end of April when the group raised its 2021 full-year targets, rose by 30 per cent to $12.4 billion.

“Strong demand led to bottlenecks, as well as lack of capacity and equipment, which drove up freight rates to record high levels,” said chief executive Soren Skou.

Maersk said it would launch a new $5-billion share buy-back programme over the next two years.

As a result of the pandemic, demand for shipping has surged since mid-2020 and especially since the end of the year, in particular from Asia to the US and Europe. Shipping companies and analysts attribute the rise to consumers purchasing more manufactured products, instead of spending their money on trips and restaurants and other experiences. Additionally, many companies are still in the process of restocking after reducing their orders in the first months of the pandemic.

Shipping companies and analysts attribute the rise to consumers purchasing more manufactured products, instead of spending their money on trips and restaurants and other experiences

On some routes, primarily those from Asia, some container rates have been tripled or even quadrupled.

In March, the situation was aggravated further by the six-day blockage of the Suez Canal, which caused major traffic jams for vessels and held up an estimated $9.6 billion worth of cargo between Asia and Europe each day.

Maersk’s share price, which has almost tripled since April 2020. 

With operations in 130 countries, Maersk employs around 80,000 people worldwide.

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