Shipping group AP Moller-Maersk said today that prospects for a pick-up in demand for seaborne container traffic were clouded by an uncertain economic outlook.

But AP Moller-Maersk's focus on driving down costs helped its shares higher today.

The world's biggest container shipping firm said global container demand was expected to grow by 1%-3% next year compared with 1%-2% in 2019. 

But it said that "the continued weakening of global sentiment, above all in the manufacturing sector, reduces the likelihood of a growth pick-up in 2020." 

Despite headwinds from the US-China trade war, Maersk shares received a boost last month after the company raised its expectations for 2019 profit. 

Its shares rose a further 2% today after full results for the three months from July to September showed it was on track to improve its profit margin despite slightly lower revenue.  

The rise in profitability has been driven by capacity management and cost controls, with unit costs, or the cost of moving a container at sea, down 3% in the third quarter.  

"We will continue our focus on profitability and free cash flow in the fourth quarter and into 2020," chief executive Soren Skou said in a statement. 

Maersk has in several quarters struggled to keep costs under control because of low freight rates, rising fuel prices and a slowdown in container shipping. 

Under new rules from January, ship owners must also use fuel with a lower sulphur content or fit vessels with equipment that reduces emissions. 

As Maersk shifts its focus from market share to lowering costs, it said it expected underlying growth in its ocean business to be slightly lower this year than average market growth.

Skou has overseen a major change in Maersk's strategy since 2016, which has included selling its oil and gas business and focussing on its container and logistics business for customers including Walmart and Nike. 

German rival Hapag-Lloyd said this week that its earnings before interest and taxes had more than doubled in the first nine months of the year, citing better performance in volumes and freight revenues.