US-listed shipping stocks closed the first quarter up nearly 40% on average as investors flooded into the sector after shunning it for much of Covid-plagued 2020. Jefferies lead shipping analyst Randy Giveans called it a “record” performance by shipping during his years of coverage, as 31 of the 32 stocks under his research gained ground. Shipping dramatically outperformed both the S&P 500, which lifted 7%, and the Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks, which climbed 14.1%. The strongest performance came in markets where hire rates staged a comeback from the depressed levels at the pit of the pandemic.

Dry bulk stocks led the way with an average 68% gain, while containerships followed close behind with a 61% surge. “Dry bulk rates rallied to multi-year highs, beating everyone’s expectations in what is historically a relatively weak quarter of the year,” Giveans said in a message to TradeWinds. “Container rates hit record highs and containership charter rates climbed almost every week, reaching decade-high levels.”

But what happened in tankers might prove even more interesting than the gains on the dry side. Listings there climbed an average of 29% at a time when operators in many sectors are struggling below their financial breakevens as inventory destocking stemming from the 2020 oil glut continues to take a toll on rates. The apparent takeaway: investors perceive tankers to have hit bottom and are starting to move into the stocks in anticipation of a rates rebound similar to that seen in the dry trades. “For the quarter ahead, tanker rates will be driven primarily by OPEC production and refinery utilisation, both of which will be driven by economic recovery,” Giveans said. “Regardless of rates volatility in the second quarter, we expect a much-improved tanker rate environment in year’s second half, as global demand, crude oil production and refinery utilisation increase in the coming months.”

As for performance by individual owners, listings in dry bulk and containerships dominated the top of the list. Greek boxship owner Danaos Corp and Angeliki Frangou’s Navios Maritime Partners – which controls both bulkers and containerships – both logged triple-digit gains at 137% and 110%, respectively. Dry owners Safe Bulkers at 88.5%, Eagle Bulk at 87.2%, Star Bulk at 64.1% and Diana Shipping at 59.1% all made the top ten climbers. So did boxship owner and 2020 IPO debutante Zim Integrated Shipping Services, which notched a 76.5% rally.

Tankers were represented in clean products by Scorpio Tankers at 66.5% and Diamond S Shipping at 54.2%. Diamond trades both clean and dirty and is set to be acquired by New York-listed International Seaways. In the gas trades, LNG companies fared better with a 24% average gain against 4% for LPG names.

Despite the huge gains by bulker and containership owners, Giveans has made clear he believe both sectors have more room to run in terms of share prices. “Dry bulk rates should remain firm as demand growth is expected across all dry bulk commodities, including coal,” Giveans said. “We expect capesize rates to climb in the near-term while panamax/supramax rates fade slightly, resulting in capesizes to be the leading asset class during the rest of the year.”

On the containership side, Giveans expects rates to remain “elevated” amid GDP growth and consumer spending. “As container spot and term rates remain near record levels, charter durations could extend to 24-36 months,” he said. LPG player Navigator Holdings was the lone owner not to share in shipping’s first-quarter fun, as shares sank 16.4%.