This week, AP Moller-Maersk, parent of global leading ocean container shipping line Maersk reported rather positive Q3 financial results. For the third quarter, the shipping concern reported an overall net earnings increase of 25 percent on flat revenues. However, Maersk did take the opportunity to once again warn its investors of a continuing slowdown in global trade.

Financial highlights for the Maersk Line unit included revenues of $7.1B and profits of $554M. Return on invested capital was 13.5 percent compared with 10.9 percent a year earlier. Volumes increased by 3.7 percent, average rate increased by 0.9 percent while unit costs decreased by 0.9 percent. Fuel costs decreased 2.4 percent from the year earlier period.

According to reporting from the Financial Times (paid subscription or free metered view), aggressive cost cutting and lower use of fuel has made Maersk Line the most profitable in the industry. The publication notes that current operating margin of 10.5 percent is considerably higher than the average of industry rivals.  Once more, Maersk boosted its operating margin over two percentage points in one quarter, and has the opportunity to continue boost future margins through the announced 10 year 2M vessel sharing alliance with rival Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC).

Maersk CEO is again quoted as indicating that in essence, the glory days of rapid industry growth in containerized trade is over.  Operators must now assume lower single-digit volume growth.

In the midst of continued industry-wide overcapacity and little industry volume growth, Maersk continues to demonstrate that it will aggressively compete for additional business and market-share. In September, Maersk Line announced a renewed ship acquisition program. It announced plans to invest upwards of $3B per year, for the next five years to acquire the equivalent of 30 new 14,000 TEU capacity vessels. That is despite its recent investments and delivery of new Triple-E vessels capable of handling upwards of 18,000 TEU’s. The new acquisition of more technologically advanced and more fuel efficient vessels further provide the opportunity to scrap older, less efficient vessels.

Included in our Supply Chain Matters Predictions for Global Supply Chains for the current year, we forecasted continued industry consolidation in surface transportation. Maersk’s continued financial performance and aggressive competitive stance adds further kindling for the industry’s lower-tied players to make additional moves or be left behind.

Supply Chain Matters will be scorecarding each our 2013 Predictions in the not too distant future.

Bob Ferrari