When 2021 comes to a close, it’ll undoubtedly be remembered for the way retail investors made their presence known on Wall Street. Despite putting their money to work in equities for more than a century, retail investors moved stock prices like never before.
The handful of companies these retail folks have piled into have come to be known as the “meme stocks” — essentially, companies valued more for the hype they create on social media than their operating performance. At the top of the list for most meme investors is movie theater chain AMC Entertainment (NYSE:AMC), which until this past week was the top-performing stock on a year-to-date basis.
Wall Street and investors are wising up to the AMC pump-and-dump scheme
Unfortunately, AMC doesn’t look as if it’ll ever be “going to the moon.”
The bull thesis for AMC, which disregards virtually all concrete fundamental data, relies on social media hype, constant misinformation, and outright lies to fuel an artificially higher share price. The problem is that Wall Street and investors are wising up to the misinformation and deceptive tactics being employed by AMC’s emotionally driven retail investors, known as apes, which has resulted in AMC’s shares losing 42% since June 28, with a lot more downside to go.
Prior to the pandemic, AMC was never worth more than $3.8 billion. Today, with vaccination rates on the rise, AMC is worth $17 billion and it’s:
- Nowhere near the peak sales produced before the pandemic.
- Losing money hand over fist, compared to being profitable prior to the pandemic.
- Contending with billions of dollars in additional debt.
- Carrying around $473 million in deferred rental obligations, as of the end of March.
- Clearly losing revenue to streaming competitors (e.g., Walt Disney‘s Disney+ garnering $60 million in debut weekend revenue for Black Widow).
To boot, virtually all claims made by apes to ignite a rally in AMC’s share price can be easily proved as false or misleading. Consider the following as two good examples of ongoing mistruths designed to artificially inflate AMC’s share price:
- Shares sold short have declined from around 102 million at the end of May to about 75.5 million as of the end of June, according to official (not estimated) data. Apes claiming short interest is climbing or “shorts haven’t covered” are flat out wrong. This also severely dents the idea that “a short squeeze is coming,” which you’ll hear echoed daily on social media without any proof or basis.
- Buying and short-selling stock has no impact whatsoever on the performance of an underlying business. This disproves the idea that short-selling bankrupts companies (a core and blatantly incorrect thesis of apes), and it also demonstrates that apes didn’t save AMC. The capital that saved AMC from immediate bankruptcy came from share sales and debt issuances in 2020 and early January. Operating performance, not buying and selling activity from investors, determines if a company is successful or fails.
It may be a choppy road lower, but make no mistake about it, the jig is up and we’ve entered the dump phase of the cycle.
This trio of stocks can go to the moon
The good news is that there are companies out there with tangible growth potential that really could go to the moon. If you allow your investment thesis to play out, all three of the following stocks can blast off.
Don’t let anyone tell you large-cap stocks can’t go to the moon. Despite its seemingly lofty $144 billion market cap, Singapore-based Sea Limited (NYSE:SE) has three rapidly growing operating segments that could make investors rich.
For the moment, Sea is generating all of its positive earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) from its gaming division. The popularity of Sea’s mobile games, coupled with the pandemic keeping more people in their homes, pushed the company’s quarterly active users higher by 61% in the first quarter to 649 million. More importantly, 12.3% of these users were paying to play, which is considerably higher than the industry average.
Over the long run, e-commerce platform Shopee is what’ll generate the most buzz. For example, the $12.6 billion in gross merchandise value (GMV) that was purchased on Shopee in Q1 2021 handily surpasses total GMV from all of 2018. Shopee is the most downloaded shopping app in Southeast Asia, and it’s quickly gaining traction in Brazil.
Thirdly, Sea has a relatively nascent but fast-growing digital financial services segment. When the first quarter came to a close, it had more than 26 million paying mobile wallet customers. Since many of the emerging markets Sea operates in are somewhat underbanked, this digital financial services division could be a sneaky long-term growth driver.
Another high-growth stock that could eventually go to the moon is esports and gaming company Skillz (NYSE:SKLZ).
Admittedly, gaming is a highly competitive industry. Developing new games is a time-consuming and costly process, and there’s no guarantee that a new game will be well-received. It’s for all of these reasons that Skillz didn’t go the traditional development route. Rather, it operates a gaming platform that allows players to compete against each other for cash prizes. Maintaining this platform doesn’t cost an arm and a leg (gross margin has consistently been 95%), and both Skillz and gaming developers get to keep a cut of the cash prizes.
When the first quarter came to a close, Skillz had approximately 467,000 monthly active users (MAUs) that were paying to pay on its platform. That’s 17% of its MAU base. According to Wappier Gaming Apps, the conversion rate for paying gamers ranged from 1.6% to 2% in 2020. In other words, Skillz is converting casual gamers to paying members at a considerably higher rate than other gaming companies.
Skillz also has an incredibly lucrative partnership in its back pocket. In February, it signed a multiyear agreement with the National Football League (NFL). Football is the most popular sport by a long shot in the U.S. The expectation is that we’ll see NFL-themed games and competitions hitting the platform by no later than 2022.
Though Skillz is likely to lose money through 2022 as it beefs up marketing, its insane growth potential and potentially lucrative margins can’t be overlooked.
A final stock that can go to the moon is U.S. marijuana stock Trulieve Cannabis (OTC:TCNNF). According to New Frontier Data, the U.S. pot industry could be generating north of $41 billion in annual sales by 2025.
Whereas most U.S. multistate operators are angling to have a presence in as many legalized markets as possible, Trulieve has taken on a strategy that looked odd at first, but has paid off incredibly well. Of the 91 dispensaries it had open in early July, 85 of them were located in medical marijuana-legal Florida. By absolutely saturating the Sunshine State, Trulieve has effectively gobbled up around half of all dried cannabis flower and oils market share. At the same time, its marketing costs have been kept low, pushing the company to 13 consecutive quarters of profitability.
But make no mistake about it, Trulieve does have aspirations of moving beyond Florida. For instance, it recently announced the largest U.S. cannabis acquisition in history — a $2.1 billion all-stock deal to acquire multistate operator Harvest Health & Recreation (OTC:HRVSF). Harvest has a focus on five states, one of which is Florida. This means Trulieve’s presence in the Sunshine State will soon get even bigger.
However, the real lure of this deal is the 15 dispensaries Harvest Health operates in its home market of Arizona, a state that legalized recreational weed in November. Trulieve shouldn’t have any problem taking its Florida blueprint and applying it in other key markets. This gives it a good chance to go to the moon in the future.
This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis — even one of our own — helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.
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