Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Maersk Cuts Profit Outlook on Weaker Global Container Market

A.P. Moeller-Maersk cut its profit forecast for 2015 citing a weaker container shipping market as the outlook for global growth becomes gloomier.

The owner of the world’s biggest shipping line now sees underlying profit of about $3.4 billion, compared with a previous forecast for $4 billion, according to a statement to the stock exchange on Friday.

“Particularly the container shipping market deteriorated beyond the Group’s expectations especially in the latter part of the third quarter and October,” the company said. “The Group now expects no market recovery within 2015. Initiatives have been taken to adjust Maersk Line’s network accordingly.”

The company’s shares sank as much as 8.1 percent and traded 7.9 percent down at 9,680 kroner as of 10:02 a.m. in Copenhagen. That’s their weakest level since September 2013. Nordea senior analyst Jesper Grandjean Bamberger said the profit warning wasn’t unexpected, but bigger than estimated.

Container rates have been falling amid concern that China’s economic growth is slowing. Bloomberg Intelligence said on Friday that the World Container Index touched a record low for a third straight week, with two of the eight trade lanes in the rate composite at all-time lows.

Maersk Line’s average freight rates were 19 percent lower in the third quarter versus the same period a year earlier, the company said. The shipping line also carried fewer containers than it had expected as shipments only rose 1.1 percent.

Maersk said none of its other units -- which include an oil explorer, a drilling division and a port operator -- are changing their full-year forecasts. The group’s preliminary third-quarter net income will be $778 million, or $662 million in underlying terms, it said.

The profit downgrade in Maersk’s shipping business shouldn’t frighten investors away, according to Goldman Sachs.

“Notwithstanding the significant downgrade to guidance, we believe Maersk’s valuation remains attractive,” Patrick Creuset an analyst with Goldman Sachs in London, said in a note. ‘We also see no balance sheet risk given low leverage.”

Maersk Line said last week it will take capacity out of the Asia-to-Europe shipping lane to address declining demand and lower rates. The company has also flagged that it intends to charge higher prices.

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