The liner turned around a $500 million loss in 2019 to produce its highest ever annual operating result of $831 million, HMM said.
Revenue rose 16.3 per cent last year to $5.43 billion, even as volume fell 9.3 per cent to 3.89 million TEU.
Similar to all major global carriers, HMM faced slumping demand during the second quarter of 2020 when non-essential businesses in its major markets in the US and Europe locked down as the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread. Demand recovered quickly in the third quarter as the economies reopened, but it was in the last three months of 2020 where the real gains were made.
HMM's fourth quarter revenue increased 16 per cent compared with the third quarter, while operating profit of $480.5 million was more than double that achieved during the previous three-month period.
The carrier said earnings were primarily driven by high freight rates, lower fuel prices, and a more efficient fleet, which included 12 ships of 24,000 TEU that were delivered during the year; the last of the order was handed over in September 2020. Another eight 16,000 TEU ships will be delivered in the first half of 2021.
In its outlook for 2021, HMM said an equipment shortage and tight space on vessels would likely last until late spring, and supply chain disruption from container backlogs and terminal congestion at 'several main ports' would continue in the short term.
HMM has several services calling at the heavily congested ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, where terminal operators say the bottlenecks will also last until late spring. While the average schedule reliability of carriers on the trans-Pacific fell to 22.1 per cent in December, down from 70.9 per cent at the end of 2019, HMM's on-time performance on the trade over November and December was 15 per cent, according to Sea-Intelligence Maritime Analysis.