Shares of A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S, a bellwether for global trade, fell Friday after it said it's cutting at least 10,000 jobs to shield its profitability in a shipping market that is set to remain weak until about 2026.
Maersk shares extended declines to more than 18%, bringing the destruction of market value to more than $5 billion in Copenhagen, Denmark.
"If you look at the order book and what is going to come over the next couple of years, I think we're probably settling in for a very subdued and pressured environment for two to three years ahead," Chief Executive Officer Vincent Clerc said in an interview with Bloomberg TV's Mark Cudmore and Tom MacKenzie.
The personnel reductions, equivalent to 9% of head count, are prompted by lower freight rates and increased competition in marine transport. About 6,500 of those positions have already been eliminated, Clerc said.
Maersk expects to save $600 million through the job cost measures, according to a statement on Friday. The Copenhagen-based company will also put its 2024 share buyback program under review and reduced its estimate for capital expenditure in 2023 and 2024.
Container lines are facing an abrupt drop in earnings after record profits in 2021 and 2022 when high demand for consumer goods during the pandemic, coupled with limited vessel supply, drove freight prices higher.
This year, global economic growth has lost steam and companies are working through existing inventories instead of transporting new goods to Europe and the United States. At the same time, an oversupply of vessels is building up on the market.
Maersk's earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization fell more than 80% to $1.88 billion in the third quarter, meeting analyst estimates.
Global container trade will probably decline 0.5% to 2% this year, Maersk said, compared with its previous prediction of a contraction of 1% to 4%.
The downturn in the industry is set to be deeper and longer than the market expects, Goldman Sachs analysts warned in a research note last month, repeating a recommendation to sell Maersk stock. According to Bloomberg Intelligence, Maersk may have to wait until 2025 before earnings will grow, amid weak rates.
Maersk, which transports about one-sixth of the world's containers, prepared for things to sour, seeking to lock in many of its big customers on long-term contracts back when rates where higher to ease the impact of freight-rate volatility. The Danish company is also spreading its focus to cover land-based container logistics, where profit margins traditionally have been higher than at sea.