Maersk sees slight pick up in container traffic next year

A shift in focus from market share to lowering costs has helped Maersk improve its profit margins. (Reuters)
Updated 15 November 2019

Maersk sees slight pick up in container traffic next year

COPENHAGEN: Shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk sees scope for a slight pick up in global seaborne container traffic in 2020 compared with this year, with ongoing trade tensions limiting the chances of stronger growth.

Maersk, the world’s biggest container shipper, said on Friday that it expected global container demand to grow by 1-3 percent next after compared with
1-2 percent in 2019.

“The continued weakening of global sentiment, above all in the manufacturing sector, reduces the likelihood of a growth pick-up in 2020,” the company said in
a statement.

Despite headwinds from the US-China trade war, Maersk last month raised its expectations for 2019 profit, prompting its shares to jump more than 7 percent.

The company on Friday published a full set of results for the July-to-September period, reaffirming that it is on track to improve its profit margin albeit on slightly lower revenue.

The pick-up in profitability is driven by capacity management and cost control, with unit costs — the cost of moving a container on global seas — down 3 percent in the third quarter.

“We will continue our focus on profitability and free cash flow in the fourth quarter and into 2020,” CEO Soren Skou said in a statement.

Maersk has in several quarters struggled to keep costs under control amid low freight rates, rising fuel prices and a slowdown in container shipping.

As Maersk shifts its focus from market share to lowering costs, it said it expected underlying growth in its ocean business to be slightly lower this year than average market growth.

Skou has overseen a major shift in Maersk’s strategy, announced in 2016, which has included selling off its oil and gas business to focus on its container and logistics business for customers including Walmart and Nike. 


Despite agreement, China purchase of US agriculture lags

Updated 10 August 2020

Despite agreement, China purchase of US agriculture lags

  • The two sides are set to meet on Saturday to discuss the deal, American media says

NEW YORK: Seven months after the United States and China signed a preliminary agreement to temper their trade war, Beijing’s purchases of US agricultural goods have yet to reach the deal’s target.

As President Donald Trump readies for a tough reelection battle in November, US media reported the two sides are set to meet beginning August 15 to discuss the deal, which calls for China to sharply increase buying American goods and services this year and next.

But according to data compiled by the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), Chinese agricultural purchases at the end of June were far from where they should be at this point in the year.

They had reached only 39 percent of their semiannual target, according to US figures, or 48 percent, based on Chinese figures.

“If we get back to what the level of trade was in 2017, we’ll be lucky,” said Chad Bown, a PIIE senior fellow who authored the study, referring to the year before the trade war began.

Under the deal’s terms, China agreed to increase agricultural imports $32 billion over the next 2 years from 2017 levels.

Chinese orders for corn and soybeans have increased since mid-July, with Beijing buying just over 3 million tons of American oilseeds between July 14 and Aug. 7, according to US Department of Agriculture data.

At the end of July, the United States reported the largest-ever daily order by China for its corn, of 1.9 million tons.

The announcements were a relief to US farmers, who are expecting a bumper crop this year and need to find buyers to take it.

They also came at a time of high political tension between the two countries, after the Trump administration authorized sanctions against several Hong Kong leaders over the rights crackdown in the city, and restrictions on Chinese apps WeChat and TikTok.

The Chinese “realize we’re not being the best of buddies right now, but they need the products and they’re gonna take as much as they need,” said Jack Scoville, agricultural market analyst for Price Futures Group.

It’s possible that Beijing will change its orders from buying this year’s harvest to next year’s.

But analysts warn that any orders could be called off before the ships carrying them leave port.

Brazil and Argentina, two of the world’s largest soybean and corn producers, are starting their harvests next spring, said Brian Hoops, president of the brokerage firm Midwest Market Solutions.

China “could cancel all these purchases they made in July and buy at much cheaper prices if that’s available to them,” Hoops said.

The trade deal dubbed “phase one” and signed in January has managed to survive both the tensions and the sharp global economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which has badly hit international trade.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in June said China would follow through on its commitments, while Washington would also pursue a “phase two” trade deal that “will focus on issues of overcapacity, subsidization, disciplines on China’s state-owned enterprises, and cyber theft.”

Bown said any success in getting China to buy not just farm but also energy and manufactured goods, would aid Trump in his reelection campaign.