September 12, 2011 / 2:01 PM / 7 years ago

Maersk throws down challenge on Asia-Europe routes

* Maersk Line says to offer more frequent daily service

* Service to link four Asian and three European ports

(Adds details, quotes, share price)

By John Acher

COPENHAGEN, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Maersk Line, the world’s biggest container shipping company, threw out a challenge to rivals by introducing a more streamlined and frequent service without a premium surcharge on its key Asia-Europe routes.

With freight rates under pressure, Maersk’s move amounts to a bid to compete aggressively on high capacity routes while avoiding slashing rates and starting a price war.

“This is a very, very strong move by Maersk,” said Sydbank analyst Jacob Pedersen.

“If they can carry it out without a surcharge, as they say, I am sure that a lot of the volume that would probably be lost as a result of high capacity on the Asia-Europe route, will move to Maersk ships,” Pedersen said.

Maersk Line, the container shipping arm of Danish shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk (MAERSKb.CO), said the new service dubbed “Daily Maersk” would be available from Oct. 24.

The daily service will operate between Ningbo, Shanghai and Yantian in China and Tanjung Pelepas in Malaysia, Felixstowe in the UK, Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Bremerhaven in Germany, Maersk Line said in a statement.

“Regardless of which of the four Asian ports the cargo is loaded at, the transportation time – from cut-off to cargo availability – is fixed,” Maersk said. “Daily cut-offs mean that cargo can be shipped immediately after production without the need for storage.”

Maersk Line said that shipping lines serving the Asia-Europe trade are unreliable, with 44 percent of all containers late, 11 percent more than two days late, and 8 percent more than eight days late.

“Maersk Line promises that cargo at the other end will be available for pick-up on the agreed date,” it said.

Maersk Line, which has a global market share of around 15 percent, promised compensation if cargo is late, but would not add a surcharge. “No premium will be charged.”

If delayed by one to three days, Maersk Line will pay back $100 per container, and if delayed by four days or more, the company will pay back $300 per container, it said.

“This creates a risk for Maersk’s business that now in principle one could risk a quarter with very high compensation,” Sydbank’s Pedersen said.

Maersk Line said the more frequent departures would enable it to lower its inventories and “significantly lower...costs.”

Maersk Line said it did not believe rivals could match its set-up and would need to differentiate their product on price alone.

The global shipping industry, which tends to mirror macroeconomic trends, lost billions of dollars in 2009, rebounded in 2010, but this year has been hit by a renewed slowdown of growth and increased uncertainty.

Freight rates have been hit by those factors and by expansion of the global fleet.

“Container freight rates remain weak globally and growing capacity on Asia-Europe routes indicates that this weakness will continue for sometime,” HSBC said in a note to clients, cutting its recommendation on A.P. Moller-Maersk’s shares to “neutral” from “overweight.

“Risks to earnings still appear to be more on the downside, in our view,” HSBC said in the note covering several companies in the global logistics and air-freight sector.

Shares in A.P. Moller-Maersk traded down 3.9 percent at 1313 GMT, underperforming a 3.4 percent drop in the Copenhagen bourse's bluechip index .OMXC20.

(Editing by David Cowell)

((john.acher@thomsonreuters.com)(+45 26 30 96 50)(Reuters Messaging: john.acher.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net)) Keywords: MAERSK ASIA/EUROPE

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