Revenue as well the bottom line dipped big-time for Maersk Broker in 2016, a year in which low newbuilding activity and large investments in a dry bulk venture put the Maersk family's brokerage firm under pressure.

Generally in terms of assets we've never sold as many vessels as we have in the past six months"

— Anders Hald, CEO, Maersk Broker
But the company is so far on the right track toward meeting the target set out in the annual report – namely improving last year's profit of DKK 29.8 million (USD 4.5 million), which represents a setback of 72 percent compared to 2015, says CEO Anders Hald in an interview with ShippingWatch.

"On the basis of what we've seen in the first almost six months, we expect an improvement for 2017. That's as much as we can say right now. Things are developing as we want at this time. We have significant ambitions for our consulting business, and we continue the expansion of these activities," says Hald.

Yet, he notes that it is still – at close to the halfway point of the year – too early to say whether the profit will finish below the levels from 2014 and 2015, when the bottom line came to DKK 78.2 million and DKK 106.2 million, respectively.

"Though it's still very modest, there's a bit more newbuild activity. Generally in terms of assets, we've never sold as many vessels as we have in the past six months," says Hald, though he doesn't mention specific numbers.

"But this is still happening at very low prices and values as such, but again, we're noting high activity in significant areas for second-hand buying and selling as well as improvements in newbuild activities."

He adds that Maersk Broker is experiencing "steadily rising" business volumes in dry bulk chartering.

Still some way to go

Despite the increasing newbuild activity, there is still some way to go before things return to the levels of the past, explains Hald.

"In our own newbuilding business there has been an overweight of tankers this year, and in the market in general there is still a fairly modest number of newbuilds being contracted in comparison to historic levels," he says.

Maersk Broker has in recent years worked with an increasing focus on expanding its dry bulk activities. So far this year the firm has opened a new office in Hamburg in a joint venture with Germany's Stratos Albis Schiffahrt.

The Hamburg office employs around six people, while Maersk Broker has 14-15 people working in Copenhagen, Hald tells ShippingWatch.

Furthermore, it was recently announced that former Lightship CEO and partner Frank Mortensen will take over as head of the firm's dry bulk business.

"We have for a long time now had a reasonable coverage of dry bulk in the Pacific, but we've lacked a qualified counterpart on the Atlantic. We've done something about this in 2016 and we will continue to do so in 2017," says Hald about the growing focus on dry bulk.

Expects improved container market next year

Despite a growing focus on dry bulk and consultancy, the container business is still the by-far biggest area at Maersk Broker.

Here, the first six months of 2017 brought fluctuating rates and occasional improvements – but also many different hints at which direction developments are moving in, as various analyses of Maersk Line have for instance illustrated.

There's still a long way to go before one can make conclusions about consolidation in the sector as well as the new alliances, and what this will specifically mean for the need for tonnage"

— Anders Hald, CEO, Maersk Broker
While Jefferies has been highly positive with expectations for major improvements at the world's biggest container carrier, Sweden's Handelsbanken has been far more skeptical about earnings prospects going forward.

At Maersk Broker, Hald recognizes the picture of a market that has been through different periods in the first half of the year. He expects that the next year will bring an "improved market" for the container carriers.

"There has been fairly sound activity, and there was a window of two or three months in which we saw carriers fixing longer periods, as actually also increasing rates. This looks to have cooled off a bit again. There's still a considerable oversupply of tonnage," Hald tells ShippingWatch.

"There's still a long way to go before one can make conclusions about consolidation in the sector as well as the new alliances, and what this will specifically mean for the need for tonnage. We've seen very limited new contraction for some time now, so we definitely see, for shipowners that depend on chartering, that there are improvements. Perhaps not right around the corner, but when we get into 2018 things will look better than has been the case in recent years," he says.

English Edit: Daniel Logan Berg-Munch

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