The world’s two greatest publicly listed container transport firms have defended plans to dish out multibillion-dollar payouts to shareholders, regardless of the specter of falling income and strain over low tax charges.
Danish group AP Møller-Maersk and German rival Hapag-Lloyd plan a mixed $22.6bn dividend payout, greater than 33 occasions the quantity delivered in 2019.
Although the bumper payouts comply with a file interval for income, earnings are anticipated to fall sharply this 12 months as international commerce declines due to the financial slowdown.
Both teams have forecast a roughly 70 per cent fall in income for 2023, with their mixed payout predicted to be no less than 30 per cent increased than earnings this 12 months.
Carrier income have risen largely due to surging demand for on-line purchasing in the course of the top of the Covid-19 pandemic, in addition to provide chain bottlenecks that despatched the price of delivering items by sea hovering.
Maersk mentioned its proposed dividend was equal to 37.5 per cent of its underlying income for 2022, including that this was “fully in line” with its coverage of paying between 30 and 50 per cent of earnings.
Hapag-Lloyd’s chief monetary officer Mark Frese, justifying the group’s deliberate €11.1bn dividend this month, insisted that the group nonetheless anticipated to keep up a internet money place.
The payouts come amid criticism of the comparatively low tax charges the trade enjoys due to the way in which the levies are calculated.
Last 12 months a gaggle of French lawmakers proposed a 25 per cent tax on the “superprofits” collected by home service CMA CGM, privately owned by the billionaire Saadé household.
The calls by the lawmakers have resonance given oil majors ExxonMobil and Shell, which have been hit laborious by windfall taxes, are forecast to pay out a mixed $23.3bn this 12 months, solely a fraction above the mixed dividends of Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd.
EU nations allowed transport firms to be taxed on fleet capability to cease them relocating to low-tax states. But this meant that as their income soared, their efficient tax price plunged.
In 2022, Hapag-Lloyd’s tax funds had been equal to simply 1 per cent of its pre-tax income in contrast with 10 per cent in 2019. Maersk’s efficient tax price fell from 49 per cent to three per cent over the identical interval.
“You could consider [this system] a tax subsidy, [but] it’s difficult to see the link between the tax subsidy and a societal benefit,” mentioned Olaf Merk, a transport researcher on the OECD’s International Transport Forum.
He identified that transport had been exempted from an settlement on a worldwide minimal 15 per cent company tax, determined throughout talks on the OECD, following lobbying by the trade.
“It blows my mind there’s such little taxation of the sector, so when they have these bumper profits they can just send them out to shareholders,” mentioned Aoife O’Leary, chief govt of marketing campaign group Opportunity Green.
Merk mentioned extra of the trade’s income may have been invested in reducing emissions.
O’Leary mentioned transport teams “should be paying for their pollution”.
She added that the disappointing stage of funding in greening the fleet was “not surprising”, given the absence of sturdy regulation forcing transport to decarbonise.
Hapag-Lloyd’s Frese defended the tax system for transport, saying it “works” and had supported the trade via tough years when it struggled to show a revenue.
Maersk mentioned tax guidelines had been typically up for dialogue when income had been excessive, however added that transport was a “cyclical industry” and it was the duty of politicians to make modifications.