Maersk, a global barometer for trade, posts record 2022 earnings but warns of a tough year ahead

Maersk, one of the world's largest container shipping firms, on Wednesday reported the best full-year result in its history. Read more...

The container ship Maersk Murcia sits moored in the port of Gothenburg, Sweden, on August 24, 2020.


Maersk, one of the world’s largest container shipping firms, on Wednesday reported a fall in fourth-quarter earnings but posted the best full-year result in its history.

The Danish giant, widely seen as a barometer for global trade, said its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) reached $6.5 billion in the fourth quarter, below a Refinitiv consensus analyst forecast of $6.77 billion and down from $8 billion for the same quarter of 2021.

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This took the full-year underlying EBITDA figure to $36.84 billion, fractionally below the company’s forward guidance of $37 billion but its strongest-ever full-year result.

Maersk experienced an “exceptional” year in 2022 on the back of a continued rise in ocean freight rates, but flagged in its record-breaking third-quarter earnings report that these rates had peaked and a normalization would negatively impact earnings, with former CEO Søren Skou warning of “dark clouds on the horizon.”

New CEO Vincent Clerc, who took the reins at the beginning of this year, said in a statement Wednesday that 2022 had been “remarkable in more than one way.”

“While we report the best financial result in the history of the company, we have also taken the partnerships with our customers to a new level by supporting their supply chains end to end during highly disruptive times,” Clerc said.

“As we enter a year with challenging macro-outlook and new types of uncertainties for our customers, we are determined to speed up our business transformation and increase our operational excellence to seize the unique opportunities in front of us.”

Global container market to grow between -2.5% and +0.5% in 2023

Fourth-quarter loaded volumes fell 14% on the year while loaded freight rates decreased by 3.5% on the year, leading revenues to fall slightly to $17.8 billion for the quarter.

Maersk also took a hit of $511 million over the course of the year from efforts to wind down its operations in Russia, with the ultimate aim of exiting the country entirely.

The company reported an increased free cash flow of $6.5 billion in the fourth quarter of 2022 versus the previous year and issued a $685 million share buyback.

Maersk raised its dividend to 4,300 Danish krone ($620.33) per share from 2,500 DKK per share.

For 2023, Maersk expects underlying EBITDA to plummet to between $8 billion and $11 billion.

It said the guidance was based on the “expectation that inventory correction will be complete by the end of H1 leading to a more balanced demand environment, that 2023 global GDP growth remains muted, and that the global ocean container market will grow in a range of -2.5% to +0.5%.”

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