Profit At World's Largest Shipping Company Plunges On Collapsing Global Trade, Sinking Crude Prices

Back in November, Nils Smedegaard Andersen, CEO of Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, gave the world a reality check when it comes to global growth and trade.

“The world’s economy is growing at a slower pace than the International Monetary Fund and other large forecasters are predicting” Andersen told Bloomberg. "We believe that global growth is slowing down [and that] trade is currently significantly weaker than it normally would be under the growth forecasts we see."

That amounted to a harsh indictment of the IMF’s “built in optimism bias” (to quote HSBC), a bias which leads the Fund to perpetually revise down its estimates for global growth once it’s no longer possible to deny reality. “We conduct a string of our own macro-economic forecasts and we see less growth - particularly in developing nations, but perhaps also in Europe,” Andersen added. “Also for 2016, we’re a little bit more pessimistic than most forecasters."

His comments came on the heels of a quarter in which Maersk’s profits fell 61% Y/Y. On Wednesday, we got the latest numbers out of the shipping behemoth and the picture is most assuredly not pretty.

For 2015, profits fell a whopping 84% to $791 million from $5.02 billion in 2014. Analysts were looking for a profit of $3.7 billion. 

For Q4, the net loss came in at $2.51 billion, far worse than the Street expected. Shares of Maersk fell sharply in repsonse.

Not helping matters was Maersk's oil unit, which took a $2.5 billion impairment charge. "Given our expectation that the oil price will remain at a low level for a longer period, we have impaired the value of a number of Maersk Oil’s assets," Andersen said. The company needs $45-55 a barrel to break even. Obviously, we're a long way from that. 

The outlook for Maersk Line - the company's golden goose and the world's largest container operator - racked up $182 million in red ink last quarter and the outlook for 2016 isn't pretty either. The company now sees demand for seaborne container transportation rising a meager 1-3% for the year. "Freight rates in 2015 averaged a monthly $620 a container on the key Asia to Europe trade route, with the break even level at more than $1,000," WSJ notes. "In February the cost of moving a container from Shanghai to Rotterdam fell to $431, according to the Shanghai Containerised Index, barely covering fuel costs."

"Guidance," Citi wrote in a note this morning, "implies no respite for 2016": 

"2016 guidance for an underlying net profit significantly below 2015 (US$3.1bn) vs. US$3.4bn consensus. Maersk Line significantly below 2015 (US$1.3bn); Maersk Oil a negative underlying result (breakeven at an oil price US$45-US$55); APMT flat and lower in other divisions. Heavy CAPEX continues at c.US$7bn. We expect consensus to reflect guidance."

"Maersk Line expects an underlying result significantly below last year as a consequence of the significantly lower freight rates going into 2016 and the continued low growth with expected global demand for seaborne container transportation to increase by 1-3%," the company said in its annual report out Wednesday.

Here's a look at how swings in crude and freight rates affect the company's bottom line:

Addressing the global deflationary supply glut, the company said it's being "severely impacted by a widening supply-demand gap". "The demand for transportation of goods was significantly lower than expected, especially in the emerging markets as well as the Group’s key Europe trades, where the impact was further accelerated by de-stocking of the high inventory levels," Maersk noted. "In 2015, global economic conditions remained unpredictable and our businesses and long-term assets were significantly impacted by large short-term volatility."

Right. So as we've said on too many occasions to count, global growth and trade has simply flatlined and one look at the Baltic Dry certainly seems to suggest that there's no "recovery" anywhere on the horizon. Indeed we learned last month that in November, US freight volumes suffered their first Y/Y decline since 2012 and before that, the recession.

So once again, central bankers had better learn how to print trade or else it will be time to start "liquidating" excess inventory. And we mean "liquidating" in the most literal sense of the word...