* Delivers sharply higher EBIT in Jan-Sept
* Maintains outlook for the full year
* Freight rates seen merely stable
* Bunker costs to rise
* Shares rise as much as 15 pct (Recasts, adds comments from CEO, shares)
By Vera Eckert and Christoph Steitz
FRANKFURT, Nov 15 (Reuters) - German shipping group Hapag-Lloyd kept its outlook for the current year after its nine-month operating profit rose more than tenfold, narrowing the gap on Danish sector-leader A.P. Moller Maersk , which cut its forecast last week.
Shares in Hapag-Lloyd, fresh from its merger with Arab rival UASC that helped it to reach the number five position in global shipping, rose as much as 15 percent and led German small-cap stocks. They were up 7 percent at 0929 GMT.
Shipping has struggled with overcapacity, price wars and freight rates far below break-even levels. But industry analysts say the worst may be over, thanks to an improving global economy and reduced competition following a series of mergers.
Hamburg-based Hapag-Lloyd confirmed that both earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) should grow in the full year.
“We have already been able to realise the first synergies resulting from the (UASC) merger, which will help us to further solidify our position in the sector,” Chief Executive Rolf Habben Jansen said.
Jansen said there was a chance that synergies from the merger could top the $435 million planned per year from 2019 onwards, but added it was still too early to make a firm commitment on this.
Larger peer Maersk last week trimmed the outlook for its container business after a costly cyber attack and higher bunker costs.
Jansen said that he saw opportunities to grow a little bit faster than Maersk in Latin America, which he said was still tied up with the integration of Hapag-Lloyd’s German rival Hamburg Sued.
“It is always a little bit difficult to retain your market share when you go through a merger,” he said.
Hapag-Lloyd’s nine-month EBIT amounted to 267.9 million euros, compared with 25.9 million euros in the same period of 2016. EBITDA increased to 721.9 million from 381.3 million previously.
Nine-month transport volumes were up nearly a quarter to 7.03 million twenty foot equivalent units (TEU) and freight rates improved by $23 to $1,060 per TEU year-on-year, it said.
Net profit in the third quarter amounted to 54.3 million euros after 8.2 million in third quarter 2016, and net profit in the nine months-period swung to a positive 8.2 million euros after a previous-year loss of 133.9 million. ($1 = 0.8445 euros) (Reporting by Vera Eckert and Christoph Steitz; Editing by Tom Sims, Jane Merriman and Hugh Lawson)