Few words are left to describe the hyperactive trading this year in shares of
. One is "insane."
A day after Travelzoo rose $19.23 on no news, the stock came close Tuesday to hitting $100 before some profit-taking set in. In late-morning trading, shares of the online travel publishing company were down $2.53, or 2.9%, to $86.
Other Wall Street highfliers were seeing similar resistance Tuesday as they approached triple-digit magic numbers. Internet search engine
sputtered as it approached $200 a share, with the stock falling 59 cents to $195.44. And shares of online auction company
were stubbornly hanging just above $100.
But even with the minor selloff, it's fair to say trading in Travelzoo, a tiny company most people have never heard of, is divorced from reality. The stock is just one good gap away from being up 1,000% for the year, making it one of Wall Street's best performers.
Travelzoo's rise is particularly impressive when you consider that the stock began the year trading at $8.70 and saw just 6,500 shares change hands on Jan. 2. On Monday, a whopping 7.5 million shares were traded, more than four times the 1.9 million shares available for trading (many get traded more than once).
Kelly Ford, Travelzoo's investor relations director, declined to comment on the stock's trading activity.
No doubt there are some legitimate factors contributing to the gain, including the stock's meager float, the tiny company's impressive revenue growth and a Google-inspired revival in Internet stocks. But none of that adds up to a stock with a price/earnings multiple of 336, a price/book ratio of 150 and a market cap of $1.5 billion.
The action in Travelzoo is so mind boggling, even die-hard critics, including the legion of traders who've sold 82% of the stock's thin float short, are throwing up their arms in wonderment.
"It's inexplicable. It's taken on a life of its own," says George Mihalos, a Gilford Securities analyst, who has had a sell recommendation on the stock since it was trading around $30 a share. "People are flipping shares over and over. I've never seen anything like it.''
Mihalos says he's been surprised by the staying power of momentum traders, who are playing games with other traders. The frenzied trading by the mo-mo crowd is widely believed to have brought a gargantuan short squeeze, a situation in which traders must scramble to close out short positions by buying shares.
A short squeeze often accelerates the rise in a stock because the furious buying by panicky shorts only pushes the price of the stock higher.
But Mihalos isn't ready to throw in the towel, maintaining the madness will eventually end. He thinks it will happen either when the fast-fingered traders get bored and move on to another stock, or an outside event brings traders back to their senses.
One such event could be the day when the
Securities and Exchange Commission
approves a registration statement that will permit a group of hedge funds to sell 750,000 shares in the open market. The unregistered stock was sold at a steep discount in a private placement that raised $30 million for the company.
Once the 750,000 shares come into the market, it will increase Travelzoo's trading float by 39%. The new shares will make it easier for traders to short the stock and potentially reduce some of its volatility.
The stock's float should rise again when Ralph Bartel, the company's chairman, founder and majority shareholder, follows through on a previously announced, but then aborted, plan to sell another 750,000 shares. Bartel delayed the sale after the hedge funds raised a stink.
"You add to the float, it should reduce the squeeze pressure,'' says Mihalos.
Then again, Mihalos had thought news of the private placement alone would have been enough to take the steam out of Travelzoo's stock. But these days, rationality and Travelzoo go together about as well Democrats and Republicans.
As originally published, this story contained an error. Please see
Corrections and Clarifications.