Lucas Energy is a small cap company which appears to be honest but surrounds itself with shady characters. The company buys shut-in and otherwise exhausted oil wells and rehabilitates them – a classic Ben Graham cigar puff play. The wells may be cheap – and maybe you only get one puff before they finally give up the ghost – but because you picked the cigar butt off the ground the return on equity is adequate.
The company adds a little spice to the returns by cutting in various penny stock companies on wells. (See for example Savoy Energy - now sub 1c - who uses Lucas Energy as an operator.)
The penny-operators pay good money for lousy (but producing) properties and the stock promoters thus announce their production numbers. No mention of course that these are the last puffs on a cheap cigar – but hey at least these penny-stock promotes are real producers unlike some I have blogged about from time to time.
And besides you can't knock Lucas energy for selling overpriced cigar-butts. After all Lucas Energy is in the business of trading in exhausted oil wells and if someone wants to buy a share in one why should Lucas stand in their way? The motives of the buyers are not Lucas Energy's business.
What is however perplexing is the sudden trading in Lucas Energy shares. Lucas is Amex listed and used to trade 100 to 300 thousand two dollar shares a night. This was generous turnover for 16.6 million shares outstanding and a fair whack of those locked up in the hands of management. I never quite understand why the float of the company needs to turn over ever 50-70 days however this turnover is high – but not unusually so.
Suddenly the market view of Lucas changed. The precursor was a press release stating that a well in the Eagle Ford trend was finished and they expected it to flow at 500 barrels of oil per day. This is a fractured well and like most fractured wells should have a large initial flow with a rapid decline rate. More to the point Lucas only has a 15 percent interest in this well (and a similar interest in another soon to be drilled well). These are valuable assets but they are not huge assets. (The value of course being dependent on the decline rate which you would expect to be high - but is at the moment unknown.)
But that is not what the stock market thinks. Lucas has traded from a low of below $2 in late February to a high above $4.50 on Friday. More to the point the volume has gone ballistic – 800 thousand followed by 20.7 million, 10.6 million and 25.5 million shares. The average holding period of the float is now under a day. These are large numbers as the trading float is probably below 10 million shares.
We could be in the world of hyper-trigger day-traders – but I would be surprised if a single one of my readers knew what Lucas Energy was. Yet the market sees fit to make this - of all things - one of the most actively turned over stocks since the height of the dot-com-day trader bubble (turnover being measured relative to float not in absolute dollars).
What if anything rational explains turning over float quite this fast?
I see two hypotheses – and I don't know how to pick them apart. One is that there really are a bunch of gunslinger day-traders (or their computers) here and that all-of-a-sudden they see the reason to trade the entire float of this company more than three times in as many days.
The alternative is that this is a pump-the-volume and see if you can attract suckers story. The suckers of course could include the gunslinger day-traders.
I can't tell – but the SEC has the power to tell – and when a stock with long associations with penny-stock hucksters has volume like that I can't imagine why the SEC are not looking. If the stocks are doing round-trips amongst a few players faking volumes then a prosecution should be easy. If however day-traders are really behind it then they are even more removed from economic reality than I thought. (Day traders like this in energy stocks look a little like day traders in tech stocks in 1999. Not the top - but certainly a reason for thought...)
I just look in wonder. There is no model I know where turning over the stock of a company three times in three days is a productive way to allocate capital. But hey – that is just the stock market – and despite doing this for years I still find stuff like this strange.
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