What happened

Shares of Hertz Global Holdings (OTC:HTZG.Q), a vehicle rental company that recently filed for bankruptcy protection as COVID-19 rocked the transportation industry, continues to baffle rational investors. The stock has more than quadrupled since opening at $0.80 per share on June 4, 2020 -- but let's take a look at why this is wildly risky and why Hertz shares are likely going to end up worthless.

So what

It's worth repeating as many times as necessary: Hertz shares are likely going to zero. It seems as if traders are simply riding the volatility as a gambler would at a casino -- or perhaps investors truly believe that in such an unusual time, with COVID-19 and the staggering impacts it has had on the economy and businesses, Hertz might be able to negotiate an unusual deal and come back from the dead. Again, let's be clear: A scenario that doesn't end with current Hertz shares at zero value is highly unlikely. Simply put, Hertz has a monumental debt problem to the tune of $19 billion, and a $15 billion chunk of that debt is tied to its vehicle fleet in the form of asset-backed securities. Essentially, that means the first entities at the negotiating table will be the lenders of that secured debt. Hertz could have enough assets and value to satisfy those lenders in one way or another, and the next to the negotiating table will be other lenders with unsecured loans. If Hertz can satisfy the second wave of lenders in the bankruptcy process, whatever value is left will be distributed to common shareholders. It is highly unlikely there will be any such value, as Hertz simply has too much debt.

row of vehicles

Image source: Getty Images.

Now what

One possible outcome of this bankruptcy process is that Hertz restructures the company and issues a new set of common shares that enable investors to buy into the restructured company and potentially profit from its rebound, assuming the negative impacts of COVID-19 are in the rearview mirror. However, if that happens, shareholders of current Hertz common stock will be left with no value as the shares end. While there are many variables up in the air, that's generally how bankruptcy plays out for companies and shareholders.

Heck, even one of the world's top investors sold his near-40% stake in the company as it filed for bankruptcy protection. Essentially, Carl Icahn saw the handwriting on the wall and understood Hertz shares were likely to end up worthless. Icahn also understands the future could be different without COVID-19 travel restrictions, and he left open the possibility of becoming an investor again, likely with a restructured company and newly issued stock. Unfortunately, traders and unsuspecting investors seem to be buying into current Hertz shares hoping for an unusual outcome, or because they are simply OK playing a very dangerous game that is closer to gambling than to investing. For now, with the stock up 40% Monday, the Hertz madness continues.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.