March 31, 2022
By Saqib Iqbal Ahmed
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Freshly emboldened retail investors have continued piling into risky assets, supporting a bounce that has buoyed everything from so-called meme stocks to cryptocurrencies despite economic worries and geopolitical uncertainty.
Weeks-long rallies in some of the market’s most speculative names have far outpaced a broader rebound in the S&P 500, despite a selloff on Wednesday that saw the benchmark index shed 0.6% and declines in many of the more comparatively risky assets that have rallied in recent weeks.
Shares of GameStop and AMC Entertainment, two companies most closely identified with the meme stock mania that drove astronomical stock price moves in 2021, have nearly doubled in price over the last two weeks after worries over tighter monetary policy and the war in Ukraine slammed stocks earlier this year.
Other moves include a 26% rally in Cathie Wood’s ARK Innovation, an ETF replete with high growth names, a 19% jump in cryptocurrency bitcoin and a 36% rise in electric car maker Tesla. The S&P 500 is on track to finish the quarter with a 3.4% loss, after swooning as much as 12.5% earlier in the year.
While the rebound has been pinned on everything from quarter-end rebalancing to relief that the Federal Reserve is finally training its sights on inflation, retail investors have definitely played a significant part, with Goldman Sachs forecasting in a recent note that households will continue to deploy some of their $15 trillion in cash holdings into the equity market.
Retail traders’ net purchases of stocks and ETFs totaled $5 billion this past week, compared with a 1-year average of $3.4 billion, JP Morgan strategist Peng Cheng said in a note on Wednesday.
“Retail is seeing that speculative trading still works and is still trying to catch the high-flyers of the day,” said Dan Pipitone, chief executive of retail brokerage TradeZero.
For AMC, Gamestop and other stocks popular with individual investors, call options, typically employed to express a bullish view on stock prices, have drawn strong activity in recent weeks.
For example, there are 1.8 AMC call options open for every open put contract on the stock, about the most upbeat this number has been since May 2021, according to a Reuters analysis of Trade Alert data.
Graphic: Bullish positioning – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-STOCKS/egpbkbjxmvq/chart.png
AMC was one of the most bought speculative stocks in the last couple of days, analysts at Vanda Research said in a report Wednesday, noting that in the past strong flows into AMC have heralded a broader rally in other less well-known names.
“The average retail investor portfolio has now clawed back a good portion of the (year-on-year) losses, offering some fresh buffer to punt on meme stocks,” Vanda’s analysts wrote.
RJ Assaly, head of business development at artificial-intelligence-driven market screening platform Toggle, said his models – based on an analysis of AMC’s past trading patterns – had predicted the stock rising as high as $30, a level it touched Tuesday.
Past instances of such bullish signals, in December 2020 and May 2021, saw the stock overshoot its predicted price by $15 to $30 dollars, he said.
Of course, the volatility associated with meme stocks and many other recent market leaders can be a two-edged sword, particularly for investors who bought them when speculative fervor ran high. GameStop and AMC are still down 52% and 59% from their closing highs from last year, respectively. Bitcoin is off 30% while ARK is down 56%.
So far, that hasn’t stopped some individual investors from betting these speculative names will continue to rise.
Retail traders have been paring buying in the large cap names that were more popular earlier in the year and shifting into more speculative stocks as “younger and more aggressive investors” try to recoup year-to-date losses, Vanda’s analysts said.
“This investor base is now purchasing mainly speculative meme stocks, call options, and cryptocurrencies,” they wrote.
(Reporting by Saqib Iqbal Ahmed; Editing by Ira Iosebashvili and Aurora Ellis)