The meme stock strategy predicated on the sustained and coordinated buying of some of the most worthless and heavily shorted securities in the US markets in order to generate massive explosions in price is quickly losing its luster, explains Boris Schlossberg of BK Asset Management.
Meme darlings such as GameStop (GME) and AMC Entertainment (AMC) are both down 20% this month as the fervor has clearly cooled. According to Harris Kupperman of Praetorian Capital Management there may be a few reasons why the meme stock play has run its course.
With the majority of the US population vaccinated against COVID and mobility returning to both business and consumer life interest in day trading may have peaked. Although the new class of US retail traders has constant access to the market via mobile apps, attention may have shifted to more mundane real-life concerns as the gamification of finance no longer offers the only source of entertainment.
The meme-stock strategy is dependent on highly coordinated actions of millions of day traders whose synchronized buying of the underlying and its options can drive stocks higher in a matter of hours as market makers are forced to continuously buy the underlying in ever greater quantities in order to continually delta hedge their position. The method works best when retail speculative capital is focused on just one or two names. At the peak of the mania GME traded nearly 200 million shares on January 22 versus just 1.5 million shares yesterday.
With retail traders chasing many more stories the impact of their actions has been blunted and the feedback loop has turned negative as buying did not necessarily lead to price rises and therefore muted the appetite for more buying.
The speculative mania in crypto damaged the meme-stock strategy in two ways. First by acting as often a superior alternative for explosive speculative moves that saw thousandfold increases in certain coins over a matter of days. Secondly as a very efficient destructor of speculative capital. With USDBTC, USDETH, and DOGE trading at 50% or more off the peaks, the amount of blown-up retail capital is significant. Bitcoin at one point had capitalization greater than a trillion dollars and much of the retail flow that jumped on the moves was likely levered exacerbating losses and making fresh forays into meme-stock plays more difficult.
Perhaps the most interesting reason for the cooling of the meme-stock trade has to do with the blow up of Archegos capital. The Archegos saga revolved around the idea of the hedge fund hiding its true holding position of stocks through the use of a total return swap—essentially an institutional variant of the CFD strategy used in retail trading everywhere but in the US that allows traders to make directional bets in the underlying security without owning the stock. Similarly, the TRS creates a synthetic long position in a particular stock without the hedge fund becoming an actual owner of equity. Archegos was not only able to evade US regulations that require hedge funds to disclose their positions but was also able to effectively multiply its levered positions manyfold by entering into TRS agreements with several major Wall Street banks who knew nothing of its total exposure with other counterparties.
After the blow up many of Wall Street banks terminated this practice, which may have also affected many other hedge funds who secretly participated in the meme stock runs via the TRS strategy. With most prime brokers now putting an end to this strategy, the institutional capital which may have been the tail that wagged the dog is no longer there to spark the furious runs.
With both GME and AMC still trading far, far away from their mean value the potential for massive downside collapse remains very strong. Much of the retail speculative flow in the meme plays adheres to the HODL mentality of crypto with “diamond hands” becoming the shortcut for hold-at-any-cost-as-the-underlying-is-sure-to-rise belief. But unlike crypto both AMC and GME will have to report actual financial results and as the drab reality of their business operations begins to sink in—with AMC now likely facing fatal changes to their business model as consumer behavior toward cinema-going has been permanently altered by the pandemic—the stock prices are likely to follow suit.
With volatility still sky high in both names any outright puts on the position are too expensive, so those brave enough to short should do so but fully cognizant that both names could still face a few last-gasp rallies that could be vicious in nature. Alternatively, those looking for some additional protection could sell covered puts with AMC Aug 50 selling for 13 offering a possibility of a 20% return in 60 days if the stock stays at these levels or drops further.
One final thought. An IPO often marks the end of mania in a particular move. With Robinhood filing for an offering all signs point to the end of the meme run for now.
To learn more about Boris Schlossberg visit BKForex.com.