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Korea's top shipper, HMM, reports record profits amid COVID-19

By
Kang Hye-young & Kim Tae-gyu, UPI News Korea
A container vessel of South Korea’s top shipper HMM is displayed. Global shippers have booked record profits during the first quarter of this year thanks to surging cargo demand amid the pandemic. Photo courtesy of HMM
A container vessel of South Korea’s top shipper HMM is displayed. Global shippers have booked record profits during the first quarter of this year thanks to surging cargo demand amid the pandemic. Photo courtesy of HMM

SEOUL, May 19 (UPI) -- Soaring shipping demands amid the COVID-19 pandemic have helped South Korea's top shipper, HMM, rack up record profits during the first three months of 2021.

HMM, formerly known as Hyundai Merchant Marine, announced Friday that its first-quarter operating profit amounted to $905 million -- exceeding its full-year 2020 profit of $871 million.

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It is the highest quarterly performance HMM has achieved since its establishment in 1976. The company, which is owned by state-run Korea Development Bank, also booked first-quarter sales of $2.1 billion, up 85 percent from a year before.

During the January-March period, HMM's container-handling volumes rose 6.7 percent year on year thanks to strong shipping demand.

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HMM has proactively tried to clear a backlog of exports out of South Korea, which is home to big exporters such as Samsung Electronics and Hyundai Motor. The container line said it had added 24 extra-loader vessels to deal with increased shipping demand.

HMM competitors also chalked up solid performances this year as shipping demands across the world have stirred a global surge in freight rates.

Maersk's net profit surged to $2.7 billion, up from $197 million in 2020. Its shipping volume rose 5.7 percent.

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The Danish firm is the world's leading container ship operator.

"Thanks to increased cargo demand, global shippers logged huge profits in the first quarter. Their bottom lines are expected to stay strong throughout this year," Korea Investment & Securities analyst Choi Go-woon told UPI News Korea.

"In particular, the Suez Canal fiasco will boost profitability of shippers in the second quarter," he said.

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The Suez Canal was blocked during late March and early April when a huge container ship was wedged, disrupting the global supply chain and raising freight rates.

In contrast, KTB Investment & Securities' Lee Han-joon said it remains to be seen whether the bullish run of global shippers will continue.

"The cargo fares jumped in an unprecedented way because of the rising demand. But there are some signs that the supply shortage is easing," Lee said.

HMM lost 1.95 percent in the South Korean stock exchange on Monday.

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