World's largest shipbuilder sails back to quarterly profit

South Korea's "Big Three" shipbuilders were once hailed as a major driver of the country's economy before being forced since last year to shed thousands of jobs and assets to stay afloat

The world's biggest shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries swung back to the black in the first quarter as cost-cutting efforts and a shift to high-end vessels paid off in the face of an industry-wide crisis, the South Korean firm said Thursday.

The global shipbuilding sector has been hammered by oversupply, wreaking havoc among both old and new suppliers.

But Hyundai Heavy made a net profit of 462.2 billion won (US$409 million) in the January-March period, it said.

It announced its first annual profits for three years in February, but lost 314.5 billion won in the fourth quarter of 2016.

"We've shifted back to the black on the back of our competitive edges in building eco-friendly, high-end vessels and comprehensive corporate restructuring efforts over the past few years", a company official said.

New orders were improving and inquiries had doubled on the same period last year, the company said in a press statement.

So far this year it has won orders for 39 ships worth $2.3 billion, it said, the highest for the period for three years, with 18 in April alone.

South Korea's so-called "Big Three" shipbuilders Hyundai, Daewoo and Samsung Heavy Industries were once hailed as a major driver of the country's export-reliant economy -- Asia's fourth-largest -- before being forced since last year to shed thousands of jobs and assets to stay afloat.

Hyundai Heavy said first-quarter operating profits increased to 618.7 billion won from 437.7 billion won IN the fourth quarter.

Compared with a year earlier, operating profits were up 41.4 percent. But sales still fell 2.5 percent on-year to 10.08 trillion won.