Investors shorting the meme stock AMC Entertainment are estimated to have lost $1.23 billion over the last week as shares rallied more than 116% since Monday, according to data from S3 Partners.
The rally cooled off late Friday after AMC’s stock skyrocketed as much as 38% during early morning trading. Shares closed at $26.12 per share Friday, up from $13.68 on Monday. At its peak, the stock reached $36.72 a share.
AMC was the most active stock on the New York Stock Exchange by far on Friday as more than 650 million shares changed hands. Its 30-day trading volume average is just above 100 million shares, according to FactSet.
With 450 million shares outstanding, the entire company changed hands nearly 1.5 times during Friday’s trading.
The so-called short covering could be contributing to AMC’s massive rally this week. The company has about 20% of its outstanding shares sold short, compared with an average of 5% short interest in a typical U.S. stock, S3 Partners said.
When a heavily shorted stock jumps higher in a rapid fashion, short sellers are forced to buy back borrowed shares to close out their short position and cut losses. The forced buying tends to fuel the rally even further.
AMC’s new retail investors, who stand at 3.2 million strong, own about 80% of the company’s 450 million outstanding shares as of March 11, AMC reported earlier this month. Their efforts, which surged in January, pushed the stock to $20 a share, up from $5, and allowed AMC to lighten its debt load by around $600 million.
The retail investors’ agenda has been to keep AMC alive and to “stick it” to the hedge funds, one analyst told CNBC.
The more than 1,100% jump in AMC’s stock since January has defied Wall Street analyst predictions. AMC’s business has been under extreme duress. It has around $5 billion in debt and needed to defer $450 million in lease repayments as its revenue largely dried up during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Theaters were closed for several months to help stop the spread of the virus, and when the company reopened its doors, few consumers felt comfortable attending screenings, and movie studios held back new releases.
While the movie theater business is rebounding, AMC is still facing steep headwinds. Though the company ended the first quarter with $1 billion in liquidity, the most it’s ever had in its 100-year history, that cash will only keep it afloat through 2022 unless audiences return in droves to make up for months of no revenue.
While initial box-office receipts are promising, fundamental elements of the movie theater business have changed in the last year, including theater capacity, shared release dates with streaming services and the number of days that movies play in theaters.
“All that really matters here long term, this company is never going to make cash again,” Rich Greenfield, co-founder of LightShed Partners, said Friday morning on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” ”They will never generate cash with their current capital structure. It traded at 7 times EBITDA pre-pandemic. It’s now trading at 25 times EBITDA right now and it’s in a worse position today with the changed industry. This just defies all logic.”
On the last day of 2019, AMC had market value of $751.87 million. On Friday, that value stood at around $11.9 billion, according to data from FactSet.
— CNBC’s Yun Li contributed to this report.