Maersk shares plunge 13% amid U.S.-China trade tension 

Maersk to introduce a virtual assistant  

A.P. Moller-Maersk shares plunged on Thursday as the world’s largest shipping company forecast 2019 profit below analysts’ estimates and said trade disputes are dimming the outlook for world economic growth. The shares sank as much as 13 percent in Copenhagen, marking their worst day since June 2016.

Maersk said Thursday that EBITDA, a measure of operating profit, will be around $4 billion for the year.

Chief Executive Officer Soren Skou said that while there’s now “positive momentum” in U.S.-China talks, the focus may shift to Europe.

Demand in Maersk’s ocean segment will grow only 1 percent to 3 percent, he said.

Maersk is a trade bellwether because its ships carry almost one-fifth of the world’s containers, and analysts said the forecast is a cause for concern in the wider industry.

Maersk also announced the final stage in its efforts to unwind a conglomerate structure that had once relied on both energy and transport. Instead, the company will focus on transport, and plans a separate listing for its oil drilling unit — the last major corner of its energy business — on April 4. The full-year report was Maersk’s first to exclude the oil drilling unit.

The drilling spinoff is a key part of Skou’s plan since he became CEO in mid-2016. The end of Maersk’s century-old conglomerate structure was supposed to unlock value, but the share performance since Skou took over has been disappointing.

Back in April, Ane Maersk McKinney Uggla, whose family has a controlling stake in the company, asked shareholders to have “a little bit of patience” with Skou’s project.

Maersk said its outlook was affected by new accounting standards.

EBITDA for 2019 is expected to be around $5 billion when including the effects from IFRS 16, and around $4 billion, when excluding those effects, the company said. From the first quarter, guidance for EBITDA will be based on IFRS 16, it said.

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