Stock ‘meme’ mania seeps into ETF

AMC has returned 2,850% so far this year

Sumit Roy

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The meme stock frenzy has returned. After a brief hiatus during the past few months, the WallStreetBets-inspired traders are back in action, sending shares of the movie theatre chain AMC Entertainment soaring.

On Wednesday alone, shares of AMC nearly doubled, bringing its year-to-date gains to a whopping 2,850%. At its peak price, the market capitalisation of AMC topped $31bn, 50x its pre-COVID-19 levels and about 8x its previous peak market cap set in 2017. 

AMC market capitalisation

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Source: Bloomberg

While AMC’s fundamentals have certainly improved since the dark days of last year, almost everyone agrees that the movie theatre chain’s stock price is disconnected from the performance of its underlying business.

It is a situation reminiscent of the super surge in GameStop shares earlier this year when Redditors sent the stock of the struggling video game retailer to the stratosphere for no apparent reason. AMC was a participant in that first meme stock rally, and was arguably at the time the second most popular meme stock.

This time around, AMC has taken the lead, though GameStop is still very much a WallStreetBets darling, with its share price up 100x from its pandemic lows.

Relentless meme stocks

Perhaps what is most surprising about 2021’s meme stock mania is not that retail traders have been able to collectively band together to target specific stocks, it’s that they have been able to do so over and over again, for an extended period of time.

When GameStop topped out at $483 in January, everyone thought the party was over. But after crashing to $40 in February, the stock staged another spectacular rally to more than $300. The stock sold off again to less than $120, but now it is back near $300.

These quick, rolling waves of booms and busts that have no fundamental underpinnings are a unique characteristic of the current meme stock phenomenon.

No one knows how long this can continue, but at least for now, meme stock traders have been able to harness their collective energy to drive certain stocks to once-unimaginable levels. No one knows which stock will be the next meme stock, but there will undoubtedly be another GameStop or AMC in the future.

ETF concentration

For most ETF investors, the meme stock craziness is just a sideshow. By design, most exchange-traded funds are diversified, meaning that any individual stock usually doesn’t have a huge impact on the performance of an ETF.

But there are exceptions. During the peak of the GameStop mania back in January, the stock was rising so fast that two ETFs ended up with nearly a quarter of their portfolios in the stock.

A similar situation happened with AMC and the SoFi Social 50 ETF (SFYF), which FactSet describes as an ETF that “pursues the wisdom of the crowd approach”. On Wednesday, AMC ballooned to 23.5% of the ETF’s portfolio. With shares of GameStop making up another 6.1% of the fund, SFYF is currently as close to a meme stock ETF as you can get.

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Another ETF, the Invesco Dynamic Leisure and Entertainment ETF (PEJ), also saw AMC swell into an outsized position at 18% of the portfolio, as at 2 June.

AMC likely will not maintain such a large position in these portfolios – SFYF caps its individual holdings at 10% of the fund, while PEJ is an equal-weighted ETF – but for the brief period before rebalancings, investors should be aware of the meme stock concentration in these ETFs.

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