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GameStop leads meme stock rally in pandemic trade comeback

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                                A GameStop store in New York.


    A GameStop store in New York.

Meme stocks jumped Wednesday after GameStop, one of the most heavily traded off-brand stocks during the pandemic, posted a surprise profit for the fourth quarter, its first quarterly profit in two years.

Rather than a per-share loss of 16 cents as Wall Street had expected, the video game retailer reported a profit of 16 cents per share, or $48.2 million in all.

>> RELATED: Stocks fall, bond yields tumble after Fed’s latest rate hike

GameStop’s revenue fell and much of the profit gain came from aggressive cost-cutting, including store closures and layoffs. However, as was the case during the pandemic, fundamentals that typically drive stock movement appear to be being pushed aside.

Shares of GameStop Corp., of Grapevine, Texas, surged 51% at the opening bell and it pulled other meme stocks along for the ride. GameStop ended Wednesday up 35% but most of the other meme stocks could not hold on to their early gains and finished the day in the red.

During the pandemic, GameStop was a member of a group of beat-down stocks that drew smaller investors in huge numbers. The theory was that if enough small investors got in the game and drove the stock higher, it would force large hedge funds with short positions (bets that the stock would fall), to capitulate and sell those positions at a massive loss.

It worked. GameStop’s stock ran from 65 cents in April 2020, near the start of the pandemic, to more than $120 by January 2021. Similar tactics drove the stock of struggling movie chain AMC 15 times higher during the same period, and that dynamic appears to be driving the stocks of GameStop, AMC, and other so-called meme stocks on Wednesday.

Citron Research, Melvin Capital and other big hedge funds lost an estimated $5 billion on the other side of the trade in 2021, according to analytics firm S3 Partners last week.

Shares of AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. jumped during initial trading Wednesday but ended the day down 1.6%. Bed Bath & Beyond Inc.’s stock climbed nearly 7% in early trading before ending down 2.5%. Others considered meme stocks, including Palantir, Virgin Galactic and Nokia, also rose in early trading before finishing lower. Carvana, however, finished up more than 6%.

GameStop CEO Matthew Furlong said during a post-earnings conference call late Tuesday that inflation, rising interest rates and material macro headwinds forced cost cuts, and those efforts will continue this year.

“We’re going to aggressively pursue further cost containment, efficiency, profitability and pragmatic growth in the categories where we can consistently delight our customers, Furlong said.

Shares of GameStop are up 29% this year.

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