The Deutsche Post DHL group hailed an “exceptional year” as it posted record earnings for 2020 on the back of a boom in online shopping during the pandemic.

In an ad hoc release on Tuesday, the German logistics company said its operating profits had reached €4.84bn for the year, surpassing its most optimistic internal forecasts by roughly 10 per cent.

A surge in ecommerce sales helped the group’s international shipping and courier division, DHL Express, reach €2.75bn in pre-tax profits, up 35 per cent on 2019.

Of that, the unit made more than €1bn in the last quarter of the year, which includes the US Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and shopping events such as Black Friday.

“Our strategy and business model have proven resilient — even in turbulent times for the global economy,” said Deutsche Post DHL chief executive Frank Appel, who added that the company was focused on distributing vaccines around the world, including the one developed by Mainz-based BioNTech.

The Bonn-based business also increased its guidance for 2021, saying the group would exceed the underlying €5.4bn in pre-tax profits it made last year, before special items.

“The group has historically guided conservatively and to indicate this 12 days into the year is a very good sign,” said Daniel Roeska, an analyst at Bernstein.

“We expect tightness in airfreight supply to lead to pricing and volume tailwinds in the Express business, and would be looking for further strong performance through the year,” he added.

DHL’s competitor UPS has yet to release annual results, but its operating profits rose roughly 10 per cent in the last reported quarter, while that of US rival FedEx soared more than 120 per cent in the three months to the end of November.

At the height of the pandemic last year, Deutsche Post DHL, which employs more than half a million people worldwide, paid a bonus of €300 to each staff member. The company has also been on a hiring spree, with 10,000 workers added in October.

Separately on Tuesday, DHL Express said it had ordered an additional eight 777 cargo planes from Boeing, the world’s largest twin-engined aircraft. The group already operates one of the largest freight fleets in the world, with more than 260 dedicated aircraft making 600 flights per day.

The order underlined DHL’s conviction that “ecommerce is an enduring megatrend,” said Express chief executive John Pearson, adding that the division’s online ordering business grew more than 40 per cent in the last three months of the year.

Deutsche Post DHL will release its annual results in full on March 9.