Mid-2020 to mid-2021 was a great stretch for ocean shipping stocks: Container and dry bulk shares rose by double and triple digits and even shares of embattled tanker owners posted gains.
That changed last fall. Shares of most container-ship leasing companies, crude tanker owners, product tanker owners and dry bulk owners are down since September.
But shares of container liner companies are proving to be the exception. They’ve recouped most of their autumn pullbacks and are gaining more ground this year, trending up and away from the rest of the shipping pack.
That’s a bad sign for America’s beleaguered cargo importers: If stock traders are correct, container freight rates will be as high or higher in 2022 as they were in 2021. According to Stifel analyst Ben Nolan, container shipping companies could see “another year of impossibly high profitability.”
On Monday, when shipping stocks were in a sea of red, container line operator Zim (NYSE: ZIM) closed in the green, up 4%. Zim shares hit an intraday high of $58.90, not far below the 52-week high of $62.20 reached on Sept. 15.
“The container market remains very firm and has kick-started the new year with gains across key routes, indicating liner companies are positioned to start 2022 yet again with record earnings potential,” said Frode Mørkedal, analyst at Clarksons Platou Securities.
Container-ship leasing stocks
Positive sentiment on freight rates should equate to positive sentiment on charter rates for container ships. Mørkedal noted, “Strong liner earnings are boosting time-charter rate potential for shipowners, and rates are expected to gain ground in the coming weeks across all vessel segments.”
That hasn’t been reflected in the stocks of U.S.-listed container-ship lessors lately. Unlike their liner counterparts, most of ship lessor shares are down over recent months. Danaos (NYSE: DAC) is down 19% from Sept. 1, Navios Partners (NYSE: NMM) 18%, Costamare (NYSE: CMRE) 13% and Seaspan owner Atlas Corp (NYSE: ATCO) 7%. (Costamare and Navios own ships in other segments, which may be weighing on their share price.)
Dry bulk stocks
Sentiment toward dry bulk stocks has sunk along with freight rates. Spot rates have fallen seasonally and now face further pressure due to heavy rains in Brazil curtailing long-haul iron ore cargoes.
The Breakwave Dry Bulk Shipping ETF (NYSE: BDRY), an exchange-traded fund that buys dry bulk freight futures, plunged 10% on Monday.
In general, dry bulk stocks fell in October through mid-November and have stayed at lower levels over recent weeks. Since Sept. 1, shares of Seanergy (NASDAQ: SHIP) have fallen 25%, Genco Shipping & Trading (NYSE: GNK) 20%, and Golden Ocean (NASDAQ: GOGL) 15%.
Last year was historically bad for tanker owners and 2022 has started out with even lower rates for both crude and product tankers, according to data from Clarksons Platou Securities.
Tanker stocks were buoyed in 2021 by hopes of a recovery that proved premature, and omicron is pushing back the timetable yet again. Most tanker stocks peaked in mid-October and pulled back over recent months.
Shares of Nordic American Tankers hit a 27-year nadir on Dec.29 — the lowest price since the company went public in 1995.
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