July Idea of the Month: Make Like a Barnacle — Bottom Fishing in Shipping

By Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe, July 17, 2009

I find it hard to be a true contrarian investor, buying a stock that most people hate — though of course, it’s often hard to say what a “contrarian” is anymore, what with the majority of investors and pundits claiming, with a straight face, that they stray from the herd even as they tout the same stock.

But sometimes it’s worth investigating sectors that have fallen hard, and that are full of stocks that are priced at less than their book value. Caution is always important, but if you think a company has long-term staying power, should survive the current recession, and provides a necessary service, it might be a good opportunity to hold your nose and dabble in some stinky stocks.

One sector that’s full of these low Price/Book names is shipping — and it’s no surprise, shippers that move iron ore, oil, and other products around the world operate in one of the most economically sensitive sectors, if there’s less demand for the products the ships sit empty, and if the ships sit empty, you can charter them cheap. We haven’t quite gotten to that point yet (though it depends on who you ask), and I think many of the analysts are being too pessimistic about a future recovery in charter rates for some sectors, but it’s quite possible that most of the shippers will lose money this year, and that many of them will have to take charters at below break-even rates just to keep operating. But I do think there are a few points of light in the cloudy firmament, and I have at least one company that I think you should take a look at while it’s cheap.

Today, I want to focus on one of the world’s oldest shipping companies, an operator of both bulk and tanker ships — Torm (ADR trades on the Nasdaq at TRMD, home listing in Copenhagen at TORM).

Torm celebrates its 120th anniversary this year, and they are a leading company in the sector, though their Nasdaq-listed shares don’t get the same attention as bigger tanker rivals like Frontline and Overseas Shipholding Group, or the very volatile bulkers like DryShips (just as well — DryShips’ stock price has ranged from $2 to $80 in just the past year). The company is making a concerted effort this year to communicate more effectively with its US investors, and it ...

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