Shipping giants in rude health as 'trade bellwether' Maersk has second year of big profits

Fri 11 Feb 2022
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

Maersk Hidalgo

Danish-owned shipping giant Maersk, dubbed ‘the bellwether of international trade’, is expected to beat last year’s record profits as it heads for making $48bn in two years.

The shipping giant registered a net profit of $18bn (€15.8bn) for 2021 – the highest profit ever recorded by a Danish company.

Barron’s reports that Maersk predicts a “solid first half” would be followed by a “normalisation” of the sector early in the second part of the year.

All ships rise

Maersk’s profit performance came as shipping demand rebounded strongly in 2021 after the initial 2020 downturn of the pandemic. Sales in 2021 jumped by more than half (55%) to $61.8bn, with the Ocean container shipping segment up by 65%.

Maersk’s main competitors – Italy’s MSC and France’s CMA CGM – also posted record profits for 2021.

Green, logistics and services expansion 

Maersk continued its diversification strategy in 2021 by agreeing to buy Pilot Freight Services LLC for $1.68bn, shoring up its road-transport business.

The shipping giant has also made a major commitment to decarbonisation, announcing in August 2021 it was investing £1bn in switching to carbon-neutral operations including new container vessels fuelled by green methanol as well as banker fuel.  

In 2020 Maersk bought KGH Customs Services, which partners the IOE&IT in providing the world's first online customs training hub, the UK Customs Academy.

Shipping price inflation

Shipping prices look likely to remain elevated for some time, making bankers uneasy as it feeds spiralling inflation, notes Reuters.

The average trans-Pacific shipment costs around $15,000, compared with a $11,250 average for 2021. If this average price remained steady for the first half of the year, as Maersk suggests, it would still be five times higher than the average pre-pandemic cost.

The Guardian reports that trade bodies have pressed the Competition and Markets Authority to look at soaring shipping costs.

Smaller companies are particularly feeling the pinch, according to The Guardian.

The newspaper interviews Matt Gammell, co-founder of Pickering’s Gin, who says the price of bringing a shipping container of bottles from China soared from between $2,500-$3,000 (£1,845-£2,213) prior to Covid-19, to hit a peak of about $18,000.

The price has come down in recent weeks, but it is hovering about $10,000, four times higher than the pre-pandemic cost.