Best of times sure beats worst of times

Ocean carriers’ profits soar in ‘truly momentous’ first quarter

The first quarter of 2021 was the best of times for the world’s ocean container shipping lines. Year-over-year comparisons of course are basically meaningless. Q1 2020 was the worst of times for much of the world as COVID-19 spread. 

Still, in “normal” times, the ocean carriers see a slowdown in the first three months of a calendar year. The peak shipping season for the December holidays has passed. Asian factories have taken a break for Chinese New Year. Not so in 2021. Consumer demand for Asian imports has not abated. And many Chinese factories stayed open during the traditional two-week holiday shutdown in an effort to meet that continuing demand. 


CMA CGM was the latest shipping giant to report stellar figures for the first quarter of 2021.

The French company last week reported total first-quarter revenue of $10.7 billion, up 49.2% from Q1 2020, which it noted was “impacted by a slowdown in international trade due to lockdown measures, particularly in China.” 

In the ocean shipping segment, revenue was $8.6 billion, a 57.4% year-over-year increase. First-quarter shipping volume was up 10.7% year-over-year to 5.5 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). Average revenue per TEU was $1,574.

CMA CGM Group earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) totaled $3.2 billion, a margin of 29.7% — more than double the 13.5% in the first quarter of 2020.


“In the first quarter of 2021, the strong demand for transport of consumer goods observed in the second half of 2020 continued,” CMA CGM said in last week’s earnings release. “Congestion in a number of ports and, more generally, strong pressure on global supply chains persisted. Against this unprecedented backdrop, the CMA CGM Group continues to adapt its services and operations to best meet its customers’ needs.”


China’s COSCO SHIPPING Holdings Co. Ltd. reported an astounding net profit jump, from 291.51 million yuan (RMB) ($45.03 million) in Q1 2020 to RMB15.45 billion ($2.39 billion) this year. 

Operating revenue increased 79.5%, from RMB36.10 billion ($5.57 billion) to RMB64.84 billion ($10.01 billion).

Container volume increased nearly 21% to 6.78 million TEUs, up from 5.6 million TEUs in the first quarter of 2020.  

Evergreen Marine Corp.

Taiwan-headquartered Evergreen turned in the best revenue performance in its history in the first quarter. 

Q1 revenue totaled New Taiwan $90.24 billion, which equates to $3.17 billion in U.S. currency, just over double the Q1 2020 revenue.  



German giant Hapag-Lloyd’s first-quarter 2021 earnings before interest and taxes of $1.5 billion equaled the EBIT for all four quarters of 2020

For Q1 alone, EBIT was up by $1.36 billion — from $176 million in 2020 to $1.53 billion this year. 

EBITDA totaled about $1.9 billion, nearly a $1.4 billion improvement from $517 million in the first quarter of 2020

Hapag-Lloyd’s Q1 net profit of approximately $1.45 billion was a $1.42 billion improvement from the $27 million profit reported in the first quarter of 2020.

First-quarter revenue improved by about 33% to $4.9 billion, largely due to a higher freight rate, which was up on average by some 38% to $1,509 per TEU, compared to $1,094 per TEU in Q1 2020, Hapag-Lloyd said.  

A.P. Møller – Maersk

Maersk reported net income of $2.7 billion for Q1 2021 compared to $197 million in Q1 2020. The Q1 2021 earnings were not far below earnings of $2.96 billion for the entire year of 2020. Group Q1 EBITDA was $4 billion, a 166% leap year-over-year.


Total revenue was $12.4 billion. The ocean segment’s revenue increased 36% year-over-year to $9.48 billion, driven by a 35% rise in freight rates, to an average of $2,662 per forty-foot equivalent unit (FEU), and a 5.7% increase in quarterly volume, to 3.2 million FEUs. Ocean EBITDA came in at $3.4 billion, up threefold year-over-year.

Orient Overseas Container Line

Hong Kong’s Orient Overseas (International) Ltd. (OOIL), the parent company of OOCL, reported that first-quarter total revenues jumped 96% to $3.01 billion, up from $1.54 billion in Q1 2020.

Total volumes were up 23.8% for the first quarter of 2021 from the same period last year, from 1.59 million TEUs in 2020 to 1.97 million TEUs in Q1 2021.  


CEO Eli Glickman said ZIM had a “truly momentous” first quarter.

The Israeli shipping line reported net income of $589.6 million for Q1 2021 compared to a loss of $11.9 million in the first quarter of last year.

Revenue was up 112%, from $823.2 million in the first quarter last year to $1.74 billion in Q1 2021.


ZIM’s average Q1 freight rate was up 76% year-over-year to $1,925. 

Senior Editor Greg Miller contributed to this Q1 earnings recap.


From Freight Waves

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