The Memes are Back, Baby

Articles From: Interactive Brokers
Website: Interactive Brokers


Chief Strategist

One of the more notable aspects of yesterday’s trading was the resurgence of various “meme stocks”, led by a 30% rise in GameStop (GME).  The obvious explanation was simply the return of “animal spirits”, or risk-taking enthusiasm on a day when stocks moved broadly higher.  We learned a more pertinent reason after the close, when it was disclosed that the company’s Chairman, Ryan Cohen, purchased 100,000 shares during the day.  That disclosure is propelling the stock higher by another 15% this morning.

GME, 2 Day Chart, 2 Minute Bars

GME, 2 Day Chart, 2 Minute Bars

Source: Interactive Brokers

The disclosure shows a series of small trades at steadily rising prices ranging from $96.81 to $108.82.  The chart above shows that the trades had to have been done first thing in the morning and could have been finished shortly after 11:00 EDT.  (The horizontal lines approximate the prior day’s close of $94.20 and the high of $108.82 – I couldn’t get them exact).   As the stock rose, Mr. Cohen needed to continually ratchet his buying to higher prices, and he appears to have done so in somewhat of a hurry.

It is important to remember that insider buyers must follow certain rules.  They need to wait until five minutes after the open and all buying must be done on downticks.  The downtick rule is designed to prohibit an insider from lifting offers to push a stock higher.  But there is nothing in the rule that prevents that buyer from steadily ratcheting up his bid to match bids that were set by someone else.  Following the bids higher in that manner would have been the only way for him to have bought the stock at the prices he did.

Normally, large buyers such as insiders or institutions try to buy their shares with minimal market impact.  That involves minimizing their posted bids and not chasing shares upward.  Traders are quite good at noticing out when there is a relentless bid for shares at ever-increasing prices.  That incentivizes others to join the buying.  While I certainly would never accuse anyone of placing orders in a manner that would deliberately push prices higher, if I wanted to push them higher, I would be quite visible with relatively large bids at ever increasing prices.  Intentional or not, that type of buying could lead other traders to draw the inference that there is an aggressive buyer accumulated a large position. 

Meme stocks like GME are particularly susceptible to positive momentum.  Buyers are quick to jump on the shares when they are rising while potential sellers have become quite adept at stepping back when they detect a buying wave.  Those lessons were learned in January 2020 and have become ingrained with those who trade these shares.  Price action is what matters most to meme stocks.  In this case, one can certainly assert that a 100,000-share purchase by a company’s Chairman is a welcome vote of confidence and a solid piece of fundamental news, but bear in mind that GME rose 30% yesterday without an obvious catalyst.  Today’s rise may be directly attributable to Mr. Cohen’s filing, but yesterday’s larger rally was more likely driven by the presence of an undisclosed but determined buyer who got the stock moving. 

Kudos to Mr. Cohen – he is up about $40 million on yesterday’s purchases and his other 9 million shares are up by about 40% in just two days.  That is staggeringly great performance.  If it was in fact triggered by his aggressively adding an additional 1% to his holdings during the course of an hour or two, it was a masterstroke.   Whether or not this creates a new plateau for the shares or turns out to be a temporary boost remains to be seen.

Last week, in response to a question during a live TV appearance on the morning after GME’s last earnings report, I publicly questioned whether the stock was worth its then $90 price.  I still question the premium valuation placed upon a company with thousands of brick-and-mortar stores that lost money each of the past four quarters and in eight of the last ten.  But for today at least, I wish I’d questioned that valuation on the basis that it was too low, not too high. 

Disclosure: Interactive Brokers

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