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Hapag-Lloyd avoids forecast due to coronavirus uncertainty

FRANKFURT, March 18 (Reuters) - German container shipper Hapag-Lloyd said on Thursday it almost tripled its net result in 2020 due to lower costs and higher freight rates, but shied away from specifying 2021 results due to uncertainty in the coronavirus crisis.

The net result in 2020 amounted to 935 million euros ($1.12 billion) compared with 373 million euros in 2019 after revenue rose 3% and freight rates increased 4%, it said in a statement.

Hapag-Lloyd, the world’s fifth largest container line, expected to clearly surpass its 2020 results based on the assumption that transport volumes and average freight rates will increase throughout the year.

But the virus has disrupted container shipping, a bellwether for international trade, leading Hapag-Lloyd to warn of volatility in freight rates and localised infrastructure bottlenecks.

With the further course of the pandemic unpredictable, “a detailed earnings outlook is not possible at this time,” the statement said.

Chief Executive Rolf Habben Jansen said current supply chain bottlenecks will “presumably only abate significantly in the second half of the year.”

The company’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) in 2020 rose by more than a third to around 2.7 billion euros and earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) came to 1.3 billion, a 60% rise over 811 million previously.

Freight rates rose to $1,115 per twenty-foot equivalent standard container units (TEU) in 2030. Transport volumes were 1.6% down from 2019 at 11.8 million TEU, but pared 3.5% year-on-year losses in the first three quarters.

The company has proposed a dividend for 2020 of 3.5 euros per share compared with 1.10 euros previously.

On Wednesday, it announced it acquired Nile Dutch Investments, a western African shipping specialist, which according to analysts Alphaliner is the number 40 in world shipping. ($1 = 0.8347 euros) (Reporting by Vera Eckert, editing by Emma Thomasson)

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