Container line Maersk lost $599m (£375m) in the first quarter compared to a profit of $424m (£265m) last year.
The average freight rate declined by nine per cent versus the first quarter of last year – offsetting an 18 per cent increase in the volume of traffic.
Sales were up from $5.9bn (£3.7bn) to $6.3bn (£3.9bn).
Maersk announced a general rate increase on the Asia – Europe trades effective from March 2012, that was almost fully accepted, supported by a nine per cent reduction in capacity.
Most of the capacity withdrawal came from a reduction of the average speed, the group said. “Maersk Line’s introduction of the Daily Maersk has changed the industry standard, leading other liners to consolidate their services in three alliances. 85 per cent of the volume on the Asia – North Europe trades is now handled by Maersk Line or the three alliances.”
Maersk Line expects a negative up to neutral result in 2012, based on the assumption that the rate restoration that has taken place since March 2012 will continue.
“The outlook is very sensitive towards changes in the market balance. Global demand for seaborne containers is expected to increase by 4-6 per cent in 2012, with lower increases on the Asia – Europe trades but higher increases on the North – South trades.”
Damco, the AP Moller Maersk logistics business reported a rise in sales to $738m (£461m) while operation profit remained flat at $7m (£4.4m).