AP Moller-Maersk shares crashed this morning as soft guidance for this year in the face of macroeconomic headwinds overshadowed a fourth-quarter performance that followed the market script.
Stock in the Danish container giant plunged by more than one-tenth in early trading, despite a quarterly report that trumpeted confidence in the company’s strategic shift towards transport and logistics.
A fourth-quarter operating profit of $219m lagged the $421m consensus, but overall the figures were described broadly as expected.
However, the final three months of 2018 had been dismissed as a non-event ahead of the report, with Maersk’s 2019 guidance seen as more significant.
Copenhagen-listed Maersk said Ebitda for this year would run to around $5bn, including the effects of IFRS 16, and around $4bn if those effects are excluded.
Maersk said its guidance for 2019 was subject to considerable uncertainties due to "the current risk of further restrictions on global trade".
It also pointed to other factors impacting container freight rates, bunker prices and foreign exchange rates.
Analysts at Berenberg, led by Joel Spungin, described the guidance as "very disappointing" and "a shock" given the $4.9bn consensus.
"We had been concerned consensus was too high but this is still surprising," the analysts wrote.
"Speaking to the company, it sounds as if it is concerned about slowing global growth, while new capacity may weigh on pricing in the first half before improving in the second half. Rising fuel costs may also be a factor."
Maersk, often seen as a barometer for world trade, has been feeling the impact of hostilities between the US and China - a standoff that dragged its stock down by one-quarter during 2018.
AP Moller’s B shares were trading down 10.16% at DKK 8,414 ($1,277.95) each at the time of writing.
Soren Skou, chief executive of AP Moller, said: “In 2019, we will continue to focus on improving results across the company while at the same time growing our Logistics & Services segment by expanding the product portfolio.
He added: “We will continue forging ahead, despite uncertainties in the current global macroeconomic outlook.”
Maersk logged a profit of $3.2bn in 2018, the first bottom-line profit since 2015 and its best result since 2014, which saw a profit of $5.2bn.
Skou described 2018 as a year of execution to build a foundation for the new AP Moller - Maersk, "with 2019 the year of accelerating our transformation to set us up for long-term, profitable growth".
The company pointed to a 26% rise in revenue during 2018, alongside a 22% climb in volumes for its Ocean division, which included much of Maersk Line, and a 41% slide in interest-bearing debt.
Skou said: "The objective of the transformation of AP Moller-Maersk is to set the company on a new profitable growth trajectory.
"In the past two and a half years, we have come far in regaining our growth ambition, but we still need to improve profitability from the level seen in 2018.
"We have transformed from being a conglomerate, with a corporate layer overseeing independent, stand-alone business units that had their own bottom lines, to one company, with one bottom line and with customers at the centre of our attention."
Maersk paid a dividend of around $500m in 2018 and will introduce a new payout policy "fit for the new company" when it reports its second-quarter accounts later this year, Skou said.