A surge in demand for goods like furniture and exercise equipment from locked-down consumers has sparked a jump in shipping rates, boosting profits for Danish freight giant Maersk, the company said today. 

But shares in the world's largest container shipping line fell as much as 8% as it missed analysts' lofty forecasts for the end of last year.

The company also issued more cautious guidance for 2021 than anticipated. 

Maersk's ocean shipping business, its largest division, "performed at record level in the quarter as a consequence of the strong rebound of demand," CEO Soren Skou said in a statement. 

Helped by record high freight rates and low fuel prices, fourth-quarter earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) leapt 85% to $2.71 billion from a year earlier. 

However, that was below the $3.06 billion forecast by analysts in a poll gathered by the company. 

"Our continued progress makes us confident that we will continue to grow the earnings of the company as the economic situation normalises in 2021 and beyond," Skou said. 

The global shipping industry quickly recovered last year from the pandemic-related halt in trade around the world, boosted in particular by higher retail sales in the US. 

Maersk expects global container trade to rise 3-5% in 2021 after declining 2% last year. 

The majority of consumer goods are ferried by container ship operators like Maersk. Container ships have been sailing at full load since August - something that has not happened in a decade. 

Maersk said it expects EBITDA of $8.5 billion-$10.5 billion this year, compared with the $10.3 billion expected by analysts and $8.3 billion achieved last year.