Tilray stock surged 94 percent Wednesday and then gave up all its gains within minutes, before rallying in the last 20 minutes of trading to close the session up 38 percent.
In perhaps the wildest day yet for the nascent cannabis industry, shares in Tilray took a ride reminiscent of the bitcoin craze and even the height of the dot-com bubble.
The stock of the Nanaimo, B.C.-based maker of cannabis products, majority-owned by Seattle-based Privateer Holdings, nearly doubled Wednesday before wiping out the entire gain in less than an hour, only to then finish nearly 40 percent higher than where it started.
Tesla has delivered some whipsaw sessions and AMD has tripled this year, but Wednesday’s Tilray moves had a different feel.
“It’s almost like everyone wanted to express their fear and greed through one entity,” said Michael Antonelli, an institutional equity sales trader and managing director at Robert W. Baird. “It’s fun to watch. It’s the Wild West right now for cannabis. It isn’t the kind of thing that institutions would touch.”
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Almost $6.5 billion worth of Tilray shares traded hands on U.S. exchanges Wednesday, second only to Amazon’s $7.6 billion, a stock almost 47 times the size of Tilray’s $20 billion market valuation. The weed company finished the day bigger than 40 percent of the companies in the S&P 500.
“The behavior is very reminiscent of the internet bubble,” said Michael O’Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading Institutional Services. “A nascent industry, a company with what is viewed as first-mover advantage, a small float and some media hype is a dangerous recipe for investors.”
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that pot mania comes as the crypto craze is dying off. The broader U.S. stock market has churned higher on the strength of the American economy and surging corporate profits, with gains checked by relentless concerns over trade policy. With riskier markets like emerging equities in the doldrums, any sign there may be a fresh can’t-miss growth story becomes a target for the inevitable knee-jerk exuberance.
So in an otherwise quiet session on Wall Street — the S&P 500 edged higher Wednesday with investors still on edge over trade — the cannabis purveyor dominated attention.
Tilray’s day began with a bang, with the stock higher by more than 40 percent in premarket trading after the company’s chief executive officer touted plans to explore partnerships with consumer-products companies and push into more international markets as marijuana laws ease.
By the market open, noted short seller Citron Research said in a tweet that it was still betting against the stock, calling the parabolic move “beyond comprehension.” By midmorning, the stock had notched a 50 percent rally, taking its advance since its July trading debut past 1,100 percent.
As Twitter buzzed with pot jokes and incredulous takes on the rally, news hit that three of the founders of Privateer had joined their backer Peter Thiel in the billionaire club, at least on paper. Privateer holds 76 percent of Tilray.
Then things really took off.
Tilray surged an additional 25 percent in 15 minutes to touch an intraday high of $300 at 2:50 p.m. in New York — a gain of 94 percent. Then it cratered, plunging enough in two minutes to trigger an automatic trading halt, a mechanism put in place after the flash crash of 2010 to prevent prices from spiraling out of control before humans have time to sort out whether the moves are justified.
When trading resumed after the prescribed 10-minute break, shares shot higher, tripping another stop. The next resumption led to a plunge and another timeout.
Sellers were ready. In minutes, Tilray plunged to $151, wiping out all of the day’s gains and setting off another trading halt shortly before the close. This time the bulls pounced, pushing the stock higher by 38 percent. It ended at $214.06, giving Tilray a market value of $19.9 billion.
“We saw Tesla making some crazy moves a little over a month ago. That was peanuts compared with Tilray,” said Don Selkin, chief market strategist at Newbridge Securities. “It has nothing to do with the long-term outlook on the industry. It’s a purely technical move.”
The closing flourish that added $63 to the share price took just six minutes.
“It left a sea of bodies, both longs and shorts, behind in its wake,” said Dave Lutz, managing director at JonesTrading.
Among the winners were Brendan Kennedy, Michael Blue and Christian Groh, who founded Seattle-based Privateer in May 2010 as the first private-equity firm focused exclusively on the cannabis industry.
The trio effectively owned about 45 percent of Privateer’s holdings in Tilray as of March 31, according to the cannabis company’s prospectus. Privateer’s stake in Tilray is now valued at $7.2 billion, giving each founder a net worth of at least $2.4 billion, assuming they hold equal stakes.
Privateer declined to comment on the founders’ personal finances.