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Hapag-Lloyd First-Quarter Loss Narrows on Freight Rate Increase

Hapag-Lloyd AG, Europe’s fourth-largest container-shipping line, said its first-quarter loss almost halved as freight rates rose slightly and it reiterated its forecast of a 2013 operating profit.

The adjusted loss before interest and tax was 53.2 million euros ($68.8 million), compared with 99.5 million euros a year earlier, the Hamburg-based company said in a statement today. The average freight rate increased 4.2 percent to $1,546 per standard container, or TEU, in the quarter.

“Liner shipping started 2013 on a higher level than in 2012,” Chief Executive Officer Michael Behrendt said in the statement. The first quarter is traditionally the weakest of the year for the liner shipping sector, the company said. “The competition remains extremely challenging.”

The world’s biggest container lines, including A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S’s Maersk Line and Hapag-Lloyd, are struggling as the euro region’s debt crisis saps demand for seaborne goods and an overcapacity of ships has weighed on rates.

Revenue rose 3.1 percent to 1.65 billion euros on the back of a small rise in transport volumes to about 1.33 million TEU.

Freight rates have come under “tangible” pressure since April, especially on the important east-west routes, Behrendt said. “It is important that rates soon return to a sensible, profitable level.”.

Hapag-Lloyd said it’s “striving” for a profit at the level of adjusted earnings before interest and taxes this year.

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