under the direct management of its famous founder turned out to be a bit of a letdown. Revenue and operating income for the second quarter both fell shy of Wall Street’s estimates, as did the high end of the company’s revenue forecast for the current quarter. It was the first time the e-commerce titan missed the high end of its own sales projections in two years, according to data from FactSet.
as the largest U.S. company by annual sales some time next year, while still growing at double-digit rates. Growth at the company’s crucial AWS cloud business also picked up, with revenue jumping 37% year over year compared with a 32% rise in the last quarter. That lines up with trends shown by cloud rivals
and Google earlier this week, suggesting that the market leader, AWS, is at least holding its ground.
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But the boom in online sales Amazon enjoyed at the start of the pandemic created a challenging comparison for the most recent quarter. Thursday’s results confirmed the suspicions of some analysts that the company’s Prime Day sales event in late June underwhelmed. Amazon’s online stores segment saw revenue grow by only 16% to $53.2 billion in the second quarter, falling well short of analysts’ targets. Revenue growth from third-party and subscription services decelerated. Advertising revenue, reflected in the company’s “Other” segment, showed a strong jump of 87% year over year to $7.9 billion. But advertising still contributes only about 7% to Amazon’s total revenue.
The results create a bit more of a challenging setup for new CEO
as Amazon will face difficult comparisons for the rest of the year following its pandemic-fueled sales jump in 2020. But the bar seems low enough. The midpoint of the company’s revenue projection for the third quarter represents growth of 13% year over year. That would be Amazon’s slowest growth rate in 20 years, even with the pandemic picking back up and possibly driving more sales online.
Here’s what we’re watching ahead of the opening bell on Tuesday.
U.S. stock futures wavered, suggesting indexes would hover close to their record levels as investors awaited inflation data and earnings from the nation’s biggest banks.
Futures tied to the S&P 500 were relatively flat after the broad index climbed to its 39th record closing levels of the year. Dow Jones Industrial Average futures weakened 0.1%, while Nasdaq-100 futures were up 0.3%.
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U.S. inflation data for June is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. ET. Economists are forecasting a 5% increase in the consumer-price index from a year ago.
extended its fall back to earth, with its shares shedding more than 5% in premarket trading after Monday’s 17% drop. The company said it would sell up to $500 million of stock in a new share sale, a day after founder Richard Branson returned safely from a landmark trip to the edge of space.
slid 3.8% premarket. It has lost nearly 25% of its value this month so far.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite all hit record closes on Monday—and in the S&P 500’s case, it was the 39th record close this year, beating the Dow’s 27 records and the Nasdaq’s 24. The broad index is ahead of the others in terms of gains this year too, with a nearly 17% rise.
European stocks have also been on the rise, with both the Stoxx Europe 600 and Germany’s DAX index notching record highs on Monday.
On this day in 1852, Wells, Fargo opened for business in San Francisco and Sacramento. It was founded by Henry Wells and William G. Fargo to convert gold dust into cash for miners, transport and safeguard letters, gold nuggets and other valuable byproducts of the California Gold Rush.
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Global coffee prices are climbing and threatening to drive up costs at the breakfast table as the world’s biggest coffee producer, Brazil, faces one of its worst droughts in almost a century.
It is a far cry from last year, when the so-called FAANG stocks took a commanding role in a market driven by the coronavirus pandemic.
This year, as the economy strengthens and vaccinations diminish the pandemic in the U.S., that synchronized march has broken down. Investors have broadened their sights beyond the familiar names whose technology businesses thrived as many Americans switched to working, shopping and socializing at home. With a re-energized economy creating opportunity across industries, money managers have options, as well as renewed scrutiny for stocks whose lofty valuations and widespread popularity could limit further upside.
While Alphabet Class A and Facebook shares are up 37% and 21%, respectively, other members of the group have weighed on the market. Amazon shares are up 7.1% in 2021, lagging behind the 11% rise in the benchmark S&P 500. Apple and Netflix have fared even worse, down 1.7% and 7.4% for the year.
Among the hundreds of S&P 500 stocks outpacing Apple—the U.S. benchmark’s largest company by market value—are many that were hit hard by the pandemic. Cruise company
With a healthier economy improving prospects for many stocks, investors have less reason to snap up ones that look expensive. That is particularly the case as a spurt of inflation focuses investors on the question of when the Federal Reserve will begin lifting interest rates from current, rock-bottom levels.
Fed officials last Wednesday indicated they anticipate raising rates by late 2023, sooner than previously expected. When rates rise, commonly used models show the far-off cash flows factored into many technology stock’s price tags are less valuable.
In recent months, investors haven’t been willing to pay as much for the profits of some of the megacap tech names with the richest valuations. Analyst estimates for Amazon’s per-share profit over the ensuing 12 months rose more than 40% from the end of December through last week, according to FactSet. But since Amazon’s share price rose only 7.1%, the stock’s forward price/earnings multiple contracted from nearly 73 times to about 55 times.
In the case of Netflix, expectations for forward earnings have risen while its share price has fallen. That has compressed the stock’s price/earnings ratio from almost 60 at the end of 2020 to about 43 last week.
Apple has seen its valuation fall since the start of the year, as projected earnings increased while its share price is nearly unchanged. It traded last week at about 25 times expected earnings—down from more than 32 times on Dec. 31.
After owning Apple shares for years,
chief investment officer of wealth-management firm The Bahnsen Group, said he sold them late last year because he thought they were too rich.
For much of 2020, a badly constricted economy pushed investors toward stocks—like the FAANG names—whose businesses were less affected and whose future growth became even more alluring with the drop in interest rates. The Russell 1000 Growth Index advanced 37% for the year, while the Russell 1000 Value Index eked out a 0.1% gain—the largest annual performance gap between the two style benchmarks in FactSet data going back to 1979.
Big tech stocks were among the leaders of that rally. Apple shares climbed 81% in 2020—last August becoming the first U.S. public company to surpass $2 trillion in market value—while Amazon rose 76% and Netflix gained 67%. Facebook added 33% for the year, and Alphabet 31%.
“Philosophically if you’re buying those very large-cap stocks—let’s say a trillion dollars and above—you’re doing so not because you think you’ve found some undiscovered gem,” said
who manages the Firsthand Technology Opportunities Fund. “You’re doing it more as an expression of a tech thesis, that people are going to be rotating to tech.”
That rotation began to unwind in November with news that a Covid-19 vaccine was emerging. Value stocks, which trade at low multiples of book value and tend to be more sensitive to the health of the economy, began a monthslong rally. In March, value stocks were beating growth stocks by the widest margin in two decades, although the gains have eroded recently.
Among big tech stocks, Alphabet and Facebook have served as a kind of reopening play, reporting a surge in advertising. Facebook’s profit in its latest quarter nearly doubled from a year earlier, while Alphabet’s earnings more than doubled.
“They’ve had this huge resurgence in online advertising and that’s really been driving the stocks,” said
senior portfolio manager at Synovus Trust Co. “All these businesses are reopening, coming back on, the economy’s accelerating. Where do they go to promote themselves? A lot of them go to Facebook.”
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Netflix, by contrast, disappointed investors when it reported that its subscriber growth had slowed as the economy reopened. The streaming giant got a boost from the pandemic as many consumers were forced or chose to stay home, and it ended 2020 with more than 200 million subscribers.
Those fundamentals matter more now for investors, who seem less inclined to view the market in the same broad terms as they did last year.
“These just are different companies that for a long time were highly correlated because they were popular, they were performing well,” Mr. Bahnsen said. “There really was never an investment logic to a streaming company that was first to market trading in tandem with a social media company.”
U.S. stock futures wavered near the flat line ahead of a policy decision from the Federal Reserve.
Futures on the S&P 500 were unchanged and Dow Jones Industrial Average futures edged down 0.1%. The contracts don’t necessarily predict moves after the opening bell.
In Europe, the Stoxx Europe 600 added 0.3% in morning trade, and it is at its highest level in a year. Financials and healthcare sectors led gains while consumer staples and communication services sectors lost ground.
Etn. Fr. Colruyt NV fell 8%, posting its fourth consecutive session of declines.
The U.K.’s FTSE 100 climbed 0.4%. Other stock indexes in Europe also mostly climbed as France’s CAC 40 gained 0.3%, the U.K.’s FTSE 250 gained 0.5% and Germany’s DAX climbed 0.1%.
The British pound strengthened 0.2% against the U.S. dollar, with 1 pound buying $1.41 whereas the Swiss franc and the euro traded flat against the dollar.
In commodities, Brent crude was up 0.5% to $74.38 a barrel. Gold also strengthened 0.2% to $1,859.70 a troy ounce.
The yield on German 10-year bunds declined to minus 0.233% and 10-year U.K. government debt known as gilts yields were up to 0.768%. 10-year U.S. Treasury yields edged up to 1.500% from 1.498%. Yields move inversely to bond prices.
Indexes in Asia mostly fell as Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 0.4%, Japan’s Nikkei 225 index was lower 0.5%, and China’s benchmark Shanghai Composite was down 1.1%.
Last week, the new chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission,
said he has asked SEC staff to explore changes to the rules governing how investors’ orders are handled. The review will include a practice known as payment for order flow, in which brokerages send many of their customers’ orders to trading firms in exchange for cash payments. Virtu’s stock sold off sharply after Mr. Gensler’s remarks.
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Payment for order flow has existed for decades and has come under scrutiny before. But it received fresh attention after the wild volatility in GameStop shares in January. At one congressional hearing in February,
Rep. Sean Casten
(D., Ill.) referred to Robinhood Markets Inc.’s practice of sending orders to high-speed traders as “a conduit to feed fish to sharks.”
Firms such as Robinhood and Virtu say payment for order flow is misunderstood. They say small investors benefit from the practice because it results in better prices than they would get at public exchanges like the New York Stock Exchange and the
Collectively, that saves investors billions of dollars a year, industry data show.
Payment for order flow has also made it possible for brokerages to provide zero-commission trading. If the practice were banned, it is unclear whether brokerages like Robinhood could still let investors trade stocks and options without charging commissions.
Virtu Chief Executive
has been one of the most vocal defenders of payment for order flow. In March, upset by comments that CNBC “Squawk Box” host
Andrew Ross Sorkin
made about how high-speed traders profited from investors’ orders, Mr. Cifu tweeted his phone number at Mr. Sorkin and said: “Let me know when you want to learn how markets work.” Soon afterward, the CEO went on the show to discuss payment for order flow with Mr. Sorkin.
In an interview, Mr. Cifu warned that banning the practice and requiring that individual investors’ orders be sent to exchanges would harm small investors. “Retail investors would get a much, much worse experience,” he told The Wall Street Journal.
Firms like Virtu, known in the trading business as wholesalers, make money from investors by filling their orders throughout the day and collecting a small spread between the buying and selling price of each stock. Under SEC rules, they can’t fill the trades at prices worse than the best available price on exchanges—a benchmark known as the national best bid or offer, or NBBO.
Because individuals tend to make small trades, wholesalers can trade against them knowing the individuals aren’t likely to push stock prices up or down, the way that institutional investors can move a stock through heavy buying or selling. That allows wholesalers to make more consistent profits when filling small investors’ orders than when trading on exchanges—a benefit they are willing to pay brokers for, in the form of payment for order flow.
Meanwhile, small investors can benefit from the arrangement by getting prices better than the NBBO, often by just a fraction of a penny a share.
The resulting savings to the investor are known as “price improvement.” In a report released on Thursday, Virtu said standard analyses underestimate the degree to which small investors benefit from having their orders filled by wholesalers.
Using a broader measure of price improvement than the one usually used, Virtu said it saved investors just over $3 billion on their stock trades in 2020. By comparison, data disclosed by wholesalers under SEC reporting rules shows Virtu provided around $950 million worth of price improvement last year.
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The difference was largely because of how Virtu calculated the savings when an investor does a trade in a larger size than what’s publicly displayed on exchanges. For instance, suppose that 200 shares of
are available on exchanges at the national-best-offer price, and an investor buys 500 shares of the stock from Virtu at a slightly lower price.
In that scenario, Virtu’s methodology counts the savings based on how much it would cost to buy all 500 shares using price quotes on exchanges—not just at the national best offer, a price at which only 200 shares are being quoted, but at the higher prices where the remaining 300 shares would be filled.
Critics were unconvinced by Virtu’s analysis, calling it self-serving. Payment for order flow is fundamentally flawed because it poses a conflict of interest for brokers, said
executive director of Healthy Markets Association, a trade group for institutional investors.
“There’s a simple question that every investor needs to ask, and that’s whether their broker is trying to get them the best prices or maximize their own profits,” Mr. Gellasch said.
Virtu is the second-largest wholesaler in the U.S. stock market by volume, handling between 25% to 30% of individual investors’ equities order flow, and it paid more than $300 million for order flow last year, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.
Other major wholesalers include Citadel Securities, which has the largest market share, and Susquehanna International Group LLP. Virtu doesn’t break out how much it makes from trading against small investors, but the meme-stock frenzy has helped lift the company’s stock 15% year-to-date.
Mr. Cifu acknowledged that payment for order flow poses a conflict of interest for brokerages, but he said the conflict was already being managed through SEC rules. The regulator requires brokerages to publicly disclose their payment-for-order-flow practices. Brokerages also have a duty to seek best execution for their customers, and some have been fined for failing to fulfill that obligation when routing orders.
The SEC’s review will eventually confirm that the stock market works well for small investors, Mr. Cifu predicted.
“I am so confident in the value that we, Citadel and Susquehanna in partnership with these retail brokers have provided to the ecosystem,” he said, “that any right-minded person looking at this and looking at the data will conclude, ‘Man, this is a great trading system. This is the envy of the world.’”
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On a summer Friday afternoon last year, hedge-fund manager
broke bankruptcy laws. That evening on a recorded line, he pleaded with a banker to say the whole thing was a misunderstanding.
“Maybe I should go to jail,” Mr. Kamensky said on the call.
Mr. Kamensky reports to federal prison on June 18. His hedge fund is in the process of closing, and a career that included stints at white-shoe law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and storied hedge fund Paulson & Co. has been wrecked.
“He came undone,” U.S. District Judge
said during a court hearing on May 7.
Mr. Kamensky, 48 years old, worked in the high-stakes, high-conflict world of distressed investing, which aims to profit from companies teetering on the brink of or in bankruptcy. He launched his hedge fund, Marble Ridge, in 2015 with $20 million and was managing nearly $1 billion a few years later.
Running his own firm became stressful for Mr. Kamensky. He was anxious, had difficulty sleeping, lost weight and had trouble concentrating at the office or at home, he says. His fund, while it grew quickly, was still a relatively small player in the distressed market, which is dominated by giant private-equity companies, hedge funds and major law firms.
In 2017, Mr. Kamensky began working with a psychologist and a sleep specialist. He also consulted an executive coach, while in the middle of the day he would head to a meditation studio. He began to feel healthier and more relaxed, he says. He enjoyed family time again, playing games like Scrabble and doing crossword puzzles.
His efforts to control his emotions began to unravel in a bitter fight over struggling luxury-goods retailer Neiman Marcus Group Ltd. Things got worse in the coronavirus pandemic, which removed the support system of coaches and therapists that Mr. Kamensky had erected to help deal with his pressures.
Mr. Kamensky began buying bonds of the department-store chain in 2018 for about 60 cents on the dollar. Neiman was owned by private-equity firm
, which made an ill-fated bet that the chain could thrive despite an onslaught from online competitors. Neiman had one hidden gem; under Ares ownership it had acquired a thriving German online site called MyTheresa.
Interviews with Mr. Kamensky and court documents and transcripts show how the fight over MyTheresa led to Mr. Kamensky’s downfall.
Seeing the value of MyTheresa, Ares decided to separate it from Neiman, giving itself full control of the online site and leaving the bondholders with just the company’s bricks-and-mortar stores. The move borrowed from classic private-equity tactics, but still came as a surprise to Mr. Kamensky, who said he thought Ares had gone too far by taking a company’s crown-jewel asset for nothing in return.
“It’s like someone takes your wallet out of your back pocket on the subway and stares you right in the face while doing it,” he said. A spokesperson for Ares declined to comment.
In press releases that revealed his private letters to Ares’s board, Mr. Kamensky accused the private-equity firm of “lining its pockets” and “looting” Neiman. He said Ares broke the law by moving assets out of an insolvent company and had conflicts of interest. Word got out that he would sue to stop the deal.
Then Ares and Neiman fought back.
a lawyer representing Neiman, warned that if Mr. Kamensky sued, “we’re going to come down on you like a pile of bricks,” Mr. Kamensky later testified. Mr. Sprayregen, a bankruptcy lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, didn’t return calls seeking comment.
Mr. Kamensky’s fund did file suit in 2019. Neiman responded, stepping up the fight by suing Marble Ridge for defamation, alleging that Mr. Kamensky’s lawsuit hurt the retailer’s business position. “A defamation suit is unheard of,” he says. While litigation is common in the world of distressed debt and restructuring, a defamation suit is unusual.
Neiman eventually agreed to restore nearly half of MyTheresa to its creditors. Almost all of the creditors went along, but Mr. Kamensky thought it was a bad deal and continued to push Ares to give more of MyTheresa to Neiman’s creditors. “It felt like I was tilting at windmills,” says Mr. Kamensky, a reference to the novel “Don Quixote,” which he loved as a youth.
With the battle over MyTheresa already joined, Covid-19 hit and Neiman filed for bankruptcy. Mr. Kamensky’s fund fell 12%, adding to his pressures.
‘There was a fuse exploding. I lost it.’ ”
— Dan Kamensky
Staying at his Long Island home because of the pandemic, he worked in a cramped bedroom that he had converted into an office. A puppy once relieved himself on Mr. Kamensky’s foot during a business call. Sometimes, after working late into the night, Mr. Kamensky slept in the same room.
It became difficult to work with his coach and consult with colleagues. “Everything became more ad hoc,” he says.
As one of the few Neiman bondholders opposing the chain’s restructuring plan, Mr. Kamensky took a seat on Neiman’s creditors’ committee, which was tasked with advocating for the rights of investors during bankruptcy proceedings. He had to act in the interest of all creditors, rather than push for things that would benefit only his firm.
Once again a deal was reached on MyTheresa but Mr. Kamensky rejected it. He had spent millions on the fight and wanted to have the right to buy a bigger stake in MyTheresa to potentially boost his fund’s profits. He would offer to buy the preferred shares in MyTheresa that would be issued to other creditors.
By July, he was close to getting what he wanted and his hedge fund had recouped about half of its losses. Mr. Kamensky was feeling optimistic. But on July 31, he was blindsided by word that another bidder was also trying to buy the preferred shares. The bidder, he learned, was investment bank Jefferies LLC, one of his longtime brokers.
He feared Jefferies could scuttle a deal he had been pursuing for more than two years, just days before completion.
“There was a fuse exploding,” Mr. Kamensky says. “I lost it.”
At 3:20 that summer Friday afternoon, he texted
his contact at Jefferies, “DO NOT SEND IN A BID.” In a phone call 20 minutes later with Mr. Femenia and
a Jefferies colleague, he yelled and cursed at the men, according to a Justice Department probe.
Mr. Geller not long after told a lawyer for the Neiman creditors committee that Jefferies wouldn’t bid because Mr. Kamensky told the firm to back off.
Mr. Kamensky realized he had violated the law. As a member of the creditors committee, he shouldn’t try to stop a higher bid that could benefit other investors.
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Four hours after he made his threat, Mr. Kamensky called Mr. Femenia again. On the call, he pleaded with Mr. Femenia to tell a different story to authorities—that Mr. Kamensky wanted Jefferies to bid only if it was serious about going through with the deal. “I pray you tell them that this was a huge misunderstanding,” Mr. Kamensky said on the call, which was recorded by Mr. Femenia. He said he could go to jail without Mr. Femenia’s help.
The creditors committee lawyer filed a report on possible wrongdoing in bankruptcy court. Mr. Kamensky apologized while admitting his wrongdoing to Justice Department lawyers.
In September, Mr. Kamensky was arrested in a surprise raid at his home, and in February pleaded guilty to one charge of extortion and bribery related to the Neiman bankruptcy.
Upon entering prison on Friday, Mr. Kamensky faces weeks of solitary confinement in keeping with Covid-19 guidelines. After completing his six-month sentence, he could face a lifetime ban from serving as an investment adviser.
While waiting to go to prison, Mr. Kamensky has given lectures to business and law students about the dangers of intense stress and letting emotions undermine one’s judgment. He spoke at several graduate schools, including the NYU Stern School of Business and the Duke University School of Law. He wonders, if he had been in his office with colleagues around, would he have reacted so quickly and angrily.
Mr. Kamensky is a “good man, but one who lost his moorings,” Judge Cote said at his sentencing. She said it wasn’t clear to her whether his actions had caused economic harm to creditors. Prosecutors requested a sentence of 12 to 18 months. Mr. Kamensky will serve six months of probation after prison.
“I regret letting anger get the best of me,” Mr. Kamensky says.
boomeranged this month on Mudrick Capital Management LP, the latest hedge fund to fall victim to swarming day traders.
Mudrick’s flagship fund lost 10% in just a few days as a jump in AMC’s stock price unexpectedly triggered changes in the value of derivatives the fund held as part of a complex trading strategy, people familiar with the matter said.
The setback comes months after a group of traders organizing on social media helped send the price of
and other stocks soaring in January, well beyond many investors’ views of underlying fundamentals.
The development prompted many hedge funds to slash their exposure to meme stocks. Mudrick Capital’s losses highlight how risky retaining significant exposure to such companies can be—even backfiring on a hedge-fund manager who was mostly in sync with the bullishness of individual investors.
the firm’s founder, had been trading AMC stock, options and bonds for months, surfing a surge of enthusiasm for the theater chain among individual investors. But he also sold call options, derivative contracts meant to hedge the fund’s exposure to AMC should the stock price founder. Those derivative contracts, which gave its buyers the right to buy AMC stock from Mudrick at roughly $40 in the future, ballooned into liabilities when a resurgence of Reddit-fueled buying recently pushed AMC’s stock to new records, the people said.
As part of the broader AMC strategy, executives at Mudrick Capital were in talks with AMC to buy additional shares from the company in late May. On June 1, AMC disclosed that Mudrick Capital had agreed to buy $230 million of new stock directly from the company at $27.12 apiece, a premium over where it was then trading.
Mudrick immediately sold the stock at a profit, a quick flip that was reported by Bloomberg News and that sparked backlash on social media.
“Mudrick didn’t stab AMC in the back…They shot themselves in the foot,” read one post on Reddit’s Wall Street Bets forum on June 1. Other posts around that time referenced Mudrick as “losers,” “scum bags” and “a large waving pile of s—t with no future.” Members of the forum urged each other to buy and hold.
Inside Mudrick, executives were growing apprehensive as the AMC rally gained steam. The firm’s risk committee met on the evening of June 1 after the stock closed at $32 and decided to exit all debt and derivative positions the following day.
It was a day too late.
AMC’s stock price blew past $40 in a matter of hours June 2, hitting an intraday high of $72.62. Call option prices soared amid a frenzy of trading that Mudrick Capital contributed to and by the end of the week, the winning trade had turned into a bust. Mudrick Capital made a 5% return on the debt it sold but after accounting for its options trade, the fund took a net loss of about 5.4% on AMC.
Mr. Mudrick’s fund is still up about 12% for the year, one of the people said. Meanwhile, investors who bought AMC stock at the start of the year and held on have gained about 2000%.
The impact of social media-fueled day traders has become a defining market development this year, costing top hedge funds billions of dollars in losses, sparking a congressional hearing and drawing scrutiny from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. More hedge funds now track individual investors’ sentiment on social media and pay greater attention to companies with smaller market values whose stock price may be more susceptible to the enthusiasms of individual investors.
Mr. Mudrick specializes in distressed debt investing, often lending to troubled companies at high interest rates or swapping their existing debt for equity in bankruptcy court. Mudrick manages about $3.5 billion in investments firmwide and holds large, illiquid stakes in E-cigarette maker NJOY Holdings Inc. and satellite communications company
from such exchanges. The flagship fund reported returns of about 17% annually from 2018 to 2020, according to data from HSBC Alternative Investment Group.
But distressed investing opportunities have grown harder to find as easy money from the Federal Reserve has given even struggling companies open access to debt markets. Mr. Mudrick has explored other strategies, launching several SPACS and, in the case of AMC, ultimately buying stock in block trades.
Mr. Mudrick initially applied his typical playbook to AMC, buying bonds for as little as 20 cents on the dollar, lending the company $100 million in December and swapping some bonds into new shares. Theater attendance, already under pressure, had disappeared almost entirely amid Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns, and AMC stock traded as low as $2. He reasoned that consumers would regain their appetite for big-screen entertainment this year as more Americans got vaccinated.
Day traders took their first run at AMC in late January, urging each other on with the social-media rallying cry of #SaveAMC and briefly lifting the stock to around $20. AMC’s rising equity value boosted debt prices—one bond Mudrick Capital owned doubled within a week—quickly rewarding Mr. Mudrick’s bullishness. AMC capitalized on its surging stock price to raise nearly $1 billion in new financing in late January, enabling it to ward off a previously expected bankruptcy filing.
Around that time, Mr. Mudrick sold call options on AMC stock, producing immediate income to offset potential losses if the theater chain did face problems. The derivatives gave buyers the option to buy AMC shares from Mudrick Capital for about $40—viewed as a seeming improbability when the stock was trading below $10.
Mr. Mudrick remained in contact with AMC Chief Executive
about providing additional funding, leading to his recent share purchase. But he kept the derivative contracts outstanding as an insurance policy, one of the people familiar with the matter said.
—Alexander Gladstone and Soma Biswas contributed to this article.
Meme stocks have made a comeback, with one big change: this time around, short sellers aren’t a big player in the market.
Individual investors have been gearing up for some weeks to take on hedge funds that are betting against their favorite stocks. In January, their strategy of banding together online to send a handful of shares like
In the latest bout of frenetic trading in unlikely momentum stocks, there appear to be far fewer opportunities for a short squeeze. That is when a stock price begins rising, forcing bearish investors—typically sophisticated market participants like hedge funds—to buy back shares that they had bet would fall, to curb their losses.
The number of shares outstanding that have been sold short, known as short interest, remains subdued compared with the levels seen in January for popular meme stocks like GameStop,
GameStop has remained wildly popular on Reddit’s WallStreetBets online forum since the first wave in January, and its stock has skyrocketed more than 1000% this year. Short interest accounted for roughly 17% of its shares outstanding as of June 9, compared with 102% at the start of the year, according to data from
another meme stock that has surged over 1900% this year, the picture is more cloudy. The number of shares being shorted has risen, but the ratio relative to its shares outstanding has fallen to about 20%, from a peak of over 24% in early January. The movie-theater chain has sold over 100 million shares since January and converted debt into equity, which has pared the short-interest ratio.
Still, the data suggests that investors like hedge funds aren’t crowding into trades betting on the prices of meme stocks falling.
Analysts say what is likely driving the market more this time around are call options. Those are contracts that give the buyers the right to purchase a stock at a certain date and price. This type of security delivers a profit to the buyers if the underlying shares rise.
A surge in call options activity can force some participants to buy the stock, similar to a short squeeze. But instead of trapping bearish investors, rising call options activity pushes market makers such as banks to buy the stock to hedge their positions. That is because the sellers of the call options are obliged to deliver those shares if the contracts are ever exercised.
Investors like hedge funds could be buying certain stocks to try to trigger this phenomenon, which is known as a gamma squeeze, said Helen Thomas, founder of Blonde Money, a U.K.-based financial research firm. Some individual investors are also trading options and posting screenshots of their positions on Reddit forums.
However, while this type of squeeze can accelerate the ascent, it can also add juice to a stock’s decline.
“It cuts two ways: It creates crash ups, but if those stocks begin to trade lower, the dealers then sell,” said Charlie McElligott, a cross-asset strategist at
Many Reddit users show no signs of worrying that the upward trajectory of meme stocks may abruptly reverse. Clover Health has become a favorite in recent days for people determined to engineer another battle against hedge funds, sending its stock up roughly 59% this week.
“$CLOV this is the perfect setup for an epic short squeeze,” a user called u/mamagpepper wrote on WallStreetBets on Wednesday, referring to Clover Health’s stock ticker. Clover Health recently had around 10% short interest.
This time around, short sellers may be more cautious about going up against retail traders, whose wagers generally ignore metrics like the profit and sales outlook.
“Hedge funds are scared to have holdings on significant short positions [in meme stocks], even if fundamentally it makes a lot of sense,” said Lorenzo Di Mattia, chief investment officer of Sibilla Capital. “The AMC stock is probably worth $10, but that doesn’t mean it’s going there any time soon. With the retail army not really knowing anything about valuation, the risk is much bigger than normal.”
AMC traded at $42.81 at the end of Thursday.
Individual investors aren’t necessarily targeting their efforts on the most shorted stocks.
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which soared in popularity in January, has a short interest of about 31% of its total outstanding, according to IHS Markit. But the stock has largely lost its shine on WallStreetBets since the start of 2021, and wasn’t among the past week’s most popular stocks, according to TopStonks.com, which tracks equities mentioned on Reddit. Bed Bath shares are up over 77% this year.
Meanwhile, the potential to engineer a precipitous decline in some meme stocks is making bearish wagers more tempting for some investors.
Sibilla’s Mr. Di Mattia, is weighing placing wagers that AMC’s stock will drop in value.
“If it’s like GameStop in January, it could double again before it collapses: this is why it’s hard to short,” he said.
fiscal first-quarter results reported Wednesday afternoon were encouraging in many respects. Revenue grew for the first time in three years, surging 25% year over year to almost $1.3 billion for the quarter ended May 1. That came thanks mostly to strong sales of the new PlayStation and Xbox consoles that—while still sharply limited in supply due to the global chip production shortage—drove a 37% increase in GameStop’s hardware sales to about $704 million for the quarter. The company has also been able to boost its cash reserves and reduce its debt, due to selling nearly $552 million of its shares during the quarter.
GameStop seems to have discovered that individual investor love isn’t a blank check. The company said Wednesday it intends to file papers to sell up to five million shares, after selling 3.5 million shares in April.
GameStop’s stock price slid as much as 12% after hours Wednesday following the company’s results and a truncated conference call that again took no questions. AMC’s stock has fallen 21% since it announced its latest stock sale last week.
But even with such a sharp after-hours drop, GameStop’s shares remain up an absurd 1,300% from the start of the year. Which means the company will need all the help it can get to justify investors’ bets that it can renovate a videogame retail chain for an age when most games are sold digitally. The latest results also laid out starkly what a challenge that will be.
Game software, once GameStop’s largest business, fell 5% year over year during the quarter to about $398 million. This wasn’t an industrywide problem; NPD’s data shows that sales of videogame content across digital and physical channels in the U.S. rose 14% during the comparable three-month period ending in April.
Strong demand for gaming products such as the newest consoles are keeping GameStop in the game for now. But the company’s long-term revival can’t depend on machines that are updated once every seven or eight years. And GameStop is still in the staffing-up phase of whatever its plan is. The company formally installed Chewy co-founder
to the chairman slot following a successful shareholder vote on Wednesday. It also names a new chief executive and chief financial officer—both from executive roles at
Mr. Cohen told shareholders Wednesday that GameStop’s turnaround will take time. He also said the company was trying to do something in retail that no one else has done before. GameStop investors seem inclined to give the company time—but not at any price.
lost 1.7% after the online crafts marketplace proposed a private offering of $1 billion in convertible senior notes late Monday.
Traders last week spent $11.6 billion on options contracts tied to AMC Entertainment Holdings, more than on the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust, Invesco QQQ Trust and Tesla Inc. combined, according to Cboe Global Markets data. Options on those stocks are typically among the market’s most popular.
Biogen shares surged 38% on Monday after U.S. regulators gave the green light to the drug known as aducanumab, the first such approval of any drug to treat Alzheimer’s in nearly two decades.