Danish shipping group Moller-Maersk today warned that trade tensions and an economic slowdown could put a brake on growth in freight movements. 

Seen as an indicator of global trade patterns, Maersk posted first-quarter results in line with expectations as a decline in container volumes was balanced by higher freight rates. 

The trade war between the world's two biggest economies, the US and China, resulted in "signs of decline" in trade volumes between Asia and North America in the first three months of the year. 

"New tariffs can potentially reduce expected growth in global container volumes by up to 1 percentage point," Maersk's chief executive Soren Skou said in a statement. 

Maersk, the world's largest container shipping company, said in February it expected growth in the number of containers being moved around the world to fall to 1-3% this year from just under 4% last year. 

"The recent escalation of the trade-war induced by an increase in tariff rates and threats of implementing additional tariffs could take global container trade growth to the lower end of the 1-3% interval (range)," Maersk said today. 

The company posted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) at $1.24 billion for the quarter, compared with $1.25 billion forecast by analysts in a Reuters poll. 

Revenue for the period stood at $9.54 billion, slightly below the $9.62 billion expected by analysts. Maersk said it still expects 2019 EBITDA of about $5 billion.

The company also said today it would launch a share buy-back programme worth 10 billion Danish crowns.