AP Moller-Maersk is celebrating record quarterly profits with a deal worth $644m to acquire German freight forwarder Senator International.

The leading liner operator logged its best-ever quarterly earnings and reiterated its full year's earnings guidance of between $22bn and $23bn.

But the company surprised the market with the acquisition of a global freight forwarder as the shipping giant makes a push to strengthen its air freight offering.

The shift towards air cargo comes as Maersk reported a tripling of Ebitda to $6.9bn in the third quarter of the year.

Its underlying Ebit — operating profit — was up almost five times to $5.9bn and revenues grew 68% to $16.6bn.

Maersk has stuck with the full-year profit guidance issued in September, which is up $4bn from its previous expectations of $18bn to $19.5bn.

Ebit is expected to reach $18bn to $19bn, which is up from the previous range of $14bn to $15.5bn.

But the company said the growth of its Ocean segment will be below the global container demand, which is now expected to grow 7% to 9% in 2021.

Continue through to next year

Maersk expects current conditions to continue at least into the first quarter of 2022.

That will result in Ebitda in the first quarter of 2022 in line with the fourth quarter of this year.

Its Ocean division saw revenues almost double in the third quarter to $13.1bn, up from $7.1bn in the same period last year.

Ebitda increased by $4.4bn to $6.3bn and Ebit improved by $4.4bn to $5.3bn.

Long-term contracts also increased accounting for 64% of long-haul volumes compared to 50% a year ago.

The Logistics & Services division saw revenue increase 38% to $2.6bn, driven by strong commercial synergies of the company's Top 200 Ocean customers.

Its terminal division — Gateway Terminals — also had a strong third quarter, with revenue growing to $1bn from $816m last year as volumes increased by 9.6%.

Natural next step

Maersk chief executive Soren Skou attributed the impressive result to the "ongoing exceptional market situation".

He highlighted the effect of high demand in the US and global disruptions to the supply chains.

He added that the acquisition of Senator from the Kirschbaum family was "a natural next step in expanding our multi-logistics offering".

The deal, which has an enterprise value of $644m, is expected to be closed in the first half of 2022.

Senator has 1,700 employees in a global network across Europe, Asia, South Africa and the US.

Vincent Clerc, executive vice president of AP Moller-Maersk, says the company is improving its end-to-end logistics capabilities with strengthening of air freight. Photo: AP Moller-Maersk

Ocean freight contributes around 30% of its 2020 revenues of $730m, with air freight totalling around 65%.

But Maersk will acquire additional aircraft as part of the deal, with three leased cargo planes to be operational from 2022 and two newbuilding Boeing aircraft to be deployed by 2024.

These will be operated and managed by Star Air — the cargo airline of Maersk established in 1987.

Maersk plans to operate one-third of its annual air tonnage carried within its own controlled freight network.

The company said that will be achieved through a combination of owned and leased aircraft, replicating the structure that the outfit has within its ocean fleet.

The remaining capacity will be provided by commercial carriers and charter flight operators.