Picture: 123RF/EVGENII BASHTA
Picture: 123RF/EVGENII BASHTA

As soon as retail investor Calvin Froedge heard that a huge container vessel was stuck in the Suez Canal, he pulled his car over to the side of the road, opened up his laptop and started buying shipping stocks.

“It’s a huge shipping chokepoint,” said the American trader, who’s based in Panama. “This is actually kind of a black swan thing.”

Froedge is one of an increasingly influential army of day traders who, like WallStreetBets on Reddit, is embedded in a network of like-minded souls that swap data in chat rooms and on social media platforms, while also posting an endless stream of memes. He’s something of a celebrity among members of the so-called “Tanker Gang”, an informal internet community that has emerged in the last few years to speculate on companies that transport oil and fuels.

Before the Suez Canal snarl-up, these tanker-loving investors had been having a tough time, with share prices still struggling to recover from the pandemic. Then the Ever Given came along and stocks surged: Nordic American Tankers jumped 15% on Friday, while American line Teekay rallied 13%. Alexander Hansson, a board member at Nordic American and the son of its founder, bought 50,000 shares of the company on Friday, a filing shows.

Salvage teams refloated the Ever Given early on Monday in Egypt, according to maritime services provider Inchcape, almost a week after it ran aground. It’s still not clear, however, how soon the waterway will be open to traffic, or how long it will take to clear the logjam of more than 450 ships stuck, waiting and en route to the Suez that have identified it as their next destination.

“We have already seen positive spot rates movements on the back of the closure,” said Joakim Hannisdahl, the head of research at Cleaves Securities in Oslo, who has been covering the sector for more than a decade. Hannisdahl shares much of his research on Twitter, and is often inserted into memes posted by the Tanker Gang. “I was not familiar with memes before I joined Twitter a few years ago, but they are very entertaining,” he said.

Before online communities such as the Tanker Gang, it wasn’t easy for retail traders to track the industry, which has a reputation for being a fairly dull corner of the market. Monitoring these companies requires data that had been locked behind pricey subscriptions. But over the last few years, it’s been prised open by the likes of Froedge and Hannisdahl, who post hard-nosed analysis on Twitter that sometimes moves stocks.

The tanker and shipping enthusiasts had been analysing the Suez situation in Froedge’s private Discord channel, part of his TankerData website that sells market data. One member had been overlaying the Ever Given with the canal’s schematics, figuring out exactly how much of the ship is beached.

Froedge certainly doesn’t find the tanker market boring. It’s “possibly the most important part of the supply chain of the most important commodity on the planet. A war, a canal closure, tanker stocks go ballistic,” he said, adding that he had made gains since the blockage on several companies including Nordic American, Frontline and SFL Corp.

Not everyone in the Tanker Gang was convinced that shipping stocks were set to soar. “I expect a small bump on regional rates simply because fewer ships will be available for hire the longer this situation lasts,” Gregory Vousvounis, an Athens-based trade who has been investing in oil tanker stocks since 2019, said on Friday before the refloating.

“If this is a weeklong closure I don’t expect material benefit to any stocks other than a positive narrative impact.”

Bloomberg

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