AMC and GameStop Lead a Meme Stock Rally. Why Analysts Aren’t Focused on Reddit, Potential Short Squeezes. | Barron’s

Shares of AMC Entertainment and GameStop posted double-digit jumps on Wednesday, continuing a rally that highlights two radically different approaches to stocks: that of the retail traders chatting online about the potential for short squeezes, and traditional Wall Street research. The so-called meme-stock duo, generally panned by Wall Street analysts but loved on forums like Reddit’s WallStreetBets and AMCStock, have advanced mostly in tandem in the past month. AMC stock (ticker: AMC) was up 19% to $19.56 Wednesday afternoon, while

Amc and gamestop lead a meme stock rally
Amc and gamestop lead a meme stock rally

For AMC, the latest jump came despite a change in view by the only analyst tracked by FactSet who had listed the stock at Buy. B. Riley analyst Eric Wold lowered his rating to Neutral, saying in a research note the stock’s recent surge left it well above his recently set $16 target for the price. He added that he didn’t think he could justify moving that target higher, given that the price now reflected AMC’s potential to benefit as vaccinations allow the public to go to the movies, the fact that theaters remain important in film distribution, and the company’s efforts to strengthen its balance sheet.

Of course, given that the shares are moving in line with GameStop and other meme stocks, there are likely other factors at play. Both AMC and GameStop stock were highly shorted by Wall Street firms who saw a chance to benefit as pandemic-related shutdowns worsened problems the pair faced before Covid-19 emerged.

That backfired tremendously early this year as retail investors bought the stocks, forcing the funds to buy as well to close out their negative bets. Prices skyrocketed.

Ihor Dusaniwsky,
managing director at short selling analytics firm S3 Partners, told Barron’s short sellers were collectively down $6.7 billion in year-to-date losses on GameStop, including $382.7 million on Wednesday, alone. AMC short sellers were down $1.37 billion year to date, including $290.7 million on Wednesday.

S3 Partners estimates GameStop short interest sits at 11.55 million shares, or 20.3% of the shares available for trading. For AMC, S3 estimates a short interest of 92.29 million shares, or 20.6%. Dusaniwsky notes that both stocks still possess a high potential for a bigger squeeze, though it will depend on price moves.

“We have started to see some short covering in GME as mark-to-market losses mount on the short side,” Dusaniwsky said. “AMC short sellers are still adding to their positions, albeit slightly, even though AMC’s stock price has been rallying.”

The stocks’ passionate fans, meanwhile, have themselves become a shareholder constituency, as AMC CEO Adam Aron characterized them on the company’s earnings call earlier this month. The Reddit users see themselves as fighting a battle against Wall Street insiders that they believe rig markets against the average investor.

Wold, the B. Riley analyst, told Barron’s that while the latest move for AMC has included nonfundamental factors, such as the potential for a short squeeze, he does believe investors are now more upbeat about its ability to avoid bankruptcy. Recent sales of stock have strengthened its balance sheet, he said.

“It’s always difficult to comment repeatedly on any social media aspects that may or may not be influencing a stock price, but in this case, it was one that likely helped to take AMC to a place of surviving the pandemic vs. facing liquidation scenarios,” Wold said. “And with the number of retail investors likely now eclipsing the number of institutional investors through the various [at-the-market] equity programs in recent months, it makes sense that it’s becoming an increasing area of interest with the AMC story and to AMC management in general.”

Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter, who has a Sell rating and $39 price target on GameStop, likened the situation for Wall Street to a radiologist diagnosing a cancer, but not its cause. He said he is paid to tell investors what a company will earn in the future, but it is their job to figure out entry and exit points.

“Yes, there are a lot of analysts who play along and have crazy high targets for momentum darlings, but I use comps to value the companies I cover,” he said. “If the comp base isn’t going up, I don’t make an exception for the outlier. I am completely unconcerned about the impact of Reddit Raiders and the short squeeze, it has no impact on what GME or AMC will earn this year and next.”

For now though, it is hard to argue against what potential short squeezes could mean for the stocks.

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