* 2012 net profit $4.04 bln vs forecast $3.73 bln
* Sees 2013 profit below 2012, market expected improvement
* Maersk Line sees stronger 2013 on container demand pickup
* Maersk Oil 2013 profit seen “significantly below” 2012
* Shares up 1.2 percent (Recasts with outlook, details on oil unit)
By Ritsuko Ando and Stine Jacobsen
COPENHAGEN, Feb 22 (Reuters) - A.P. Moeller-Maersk beat annual profit forecasts and predicted its container shipping business would benefit from a pick up in world trade this year, helping to overshadow a warning on falling earnings at its oil business.
The Danish group, a bellwether for global trade as its vessels make up 14 percent of world container shipping capacity, said on Friday its net profit rose 20 percent to $4.04 billion last year, after it successfully raised freight prices.
That beat analysts’ average forecast and the company’s previous estimate, which were both around $3.7 billion.
However, it warned profits were likely to be lower this year, against analysts’ average forecast for an improvement to $4.2 billion, due to continued weakness in the global economy as well as lower output and exploration costs at its oil business.
Nykredit analyst Ricky Rasmussen was impressed with the results at Maersk Line, the container shipping business, and relaxed about the cautious forecast for this year.
“If we look at the outlook for 2013, I can see some in the market would see it as very conservative, but it should not come as a surprise that the company would be conservative,” he said.
At 0925 GMT, Maersk shares were up 1.2 percent at 45,560 Danish crowns.
Maersk Line has struggled in the past few years as the container shipping industry has been hit by overcapacity and a global economic slowdown.
Analysts are mostly optimistic of a modest pick up in world trade this year, as growth in Asia and recovery in the United States make up for sluggish European markets.
Maersk Line reported a profit of $461 million for 2012, recovering from the previous year’s loss, and the company said it would likely show stronger results in 2013.
Demand for shipping containers is likely to increase around 4 to 5 percent in 2013, it forecast.
Maersk Oil’s full-year profit, however, was likely to be “significantly” weaker than in 2012, it added.
Chief Executive Nils Andersen said the company would try to improve its finances by cutting costs and selling off marginal businesses. Last year, it sold off its Peregrino oil vessel and Maersk LNG, feeing up $3.4 billion in capital.
$1 = 5.6417 Danish crowns Editing by Mark Potter