AP Moller-Maersk — the world's biggest listed shipping company — has once again posted record earnings amid booming container ship markets.

The Copenhagen-listed company revealed on Friday that full-year 2021 earnings will exceed estimates it made in early November.

Ebitda — earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation — will hit $24bn compared with the previously estimated range of between $22bn and $23bn, the company said in a trading update.

This was a result of "the exceptional market situation … caused by global disruptions to the supply chains” that continued unabated in the fourth quarter, Maersk said.

Average freight rates rose at an annual pace of 80% in the fourth quarter of 2021, far outweighing a 4% drop in actually transported volumes over the same period of 2020.

Underlying Ebit for the full year of 2021 will therefore reach $19.8bn, up from a previous guidance of between $18bn and $19bn.

The company generated $16.4bn in free cash flow in 2021, 13% above the $14.5bn indicated in the November forecast.

Mixed reaction

Some analysts reacted positively to the new set of figures, saying they bode well for 2022 as well.

"The revised guidance is well above our estimates," said Anders Redigh Karlsen, an analyst covering Maersk for Kepler Cheuvreux.

"In our view, the fourth-quarter guidance signals a strong start to 2022 as it is likely to reflect a combination of higher contract rates, as well as ... continued high spot rates," added Redigh Karlsen, who has a "buy" recommendation on the stock.

Maersk said it will provide a revised outlook for the first quarter of 2022 and the full year on 9 February.

However, Maersk's stock performance on Friday suggested investors may have been hoping for even higher earnings, or simply pounced on the opportunity to take a profit.

The shares were trading down 3.1% at 22,400 DKR ($3,449) apiece in Copenhagen as of 1102 GMT on Friday. They have risen by about 50% since October, giving Maersk a market value of about $67bn.

The container ship bonanza is handy for the Danish company, which has been revising upwards its environmental targets alongside its financial ones.

On 12 January, Maersk said it plans to become climate neutral by 2040, 10 years earlier than previously stated.

To prove it is serious about this ambition, the company unveiled a set of interim, medium-term emission targets for 2030 that include slashing the greenhouse gas emission intensity of its oceangoing fleet by half from 2020 levels.