Danish container shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk reported today that it lost $1.9 billion in 2016, only its second annual loss in 70 years, as it struggled through an extraordinarily difficult cycle of vessel overcapacity and subpar shipping demand. Revenue fell 2.6 percent, to $8.89 billion.
The Copenhagen-based company also cut its dividend by half and said its chairman, Michael Pram Rasmussen, would step down on March 28 and be replaced by Jim Hagemann Snabe, the former chief executive of German technology giant SAP.
The company, calling the results "unsatisfactory," sought to reassure analysts that 2017 would be a better year, predicting a $1 billion profit improvement at Maersk Line, the world's largest liner shipping firm by capacity. Maersk Line, which moves the equivalent of 15 percent of global gross domestic product, lost $376 million last year, $155 million of that in the fourth quarter. But revenue rose 2.4 percent in the quarter, its first quarterly revenue gain since 2014.
The company said today that shipping demand is currently exceeding supply for the first time since 2010. Søren Skou, CEO of the parent and Maersk Line, tweeted that the industry's "supply and demand fundamentals are looking reasonable now, and for at least the first three quarters of this year."
"The supply and demand fundamentals are looking reasonable now and for at least the first three quarters of this year," says CEO Søren Skou. https://t.co/e7koMvvpoB— Maersk (@Maersk) February 8, 2017
Maersk announced last September that it would split into two divisions by year's end, with the parent retaining control of the transportation and logistics operations and its energy business being separated into its own unit. The transport and logistics unit consists of the liner business, terminal operator APM Terminals Management BV, and logistics company Damco International BV.
Skou has said the transport unit will put added emphasis in 2017 and beyond on third-party logistics (3PL) type operations that will take Maersk beyond its traditional role as a port-to-port carrier. In what could be a sign of a change in how Maersk does business, it signed a deal late last year with Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba allowing Maersk's Chinese customers to use Alibaba's website to book space aboard Maersk's vessels.
Maersk is also aggressively moving into the world of big data and analytics in an effort to improve equipment utilization and customer service. Maersk spends about $1 billion a year moving empty containers, a sum that doesn't include the costs of tracking the boxes.
By using analytics to gain deeper visibility into its global operations, Maersk said it would be able to forecast equipment movements two months out instead of being limited to the traditional four-week window. This would enable the liner to better match containers and available cargo, thus reducing the frequency of empty container movements, it said.