Shares in some cannabis firms cooled off on Thursday, after Reddit-inspired retail investors swarmed to the stocks in the latest bet to beat short-sellers and benefit from new legislation that is expected under U.S. President Joe Biden.
After climbing in premarket trading as European retail investors piled in to the rally, U.S.-listed shares of Tilray and Aphria, the two biggest holdings in the ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF, tumbled 39.40% and 28.33%, respectively. Tilray had soared more than 148% while Aphria has surged nearly 58% this week through Wednesday’s close.
Shares in Sundial Growers, up 46% through Wednesday, also turned lower and were last down 11.57%. The stock was the most actively traded across all U.S. exchanges with nearly 1.9 billion shares traded.
“With cannabis stocks you have the new administration and the potential for legislation, a real fundamental item... to the extent that if there is a big change in some of those laws, it would be very favorable for those companies,” said Tom Martin, senior portfolio manager at Globalt Investments in Atlanta.
“But I would caution that that legislation is still a ways away and there are other more pressing items in front of legislators at this point such as COVID-19.”
Participants on the WallStreetBets forum on Reddit, which inspired a price spike in GameStop earlier this year that squeezed out Wall Street short-sellers who had bet on a price fall, have turned attention to U.S. and Canadian cannabis firms.
“The involvement of Reddit means a frenzy is the right word,” said Jasper Lawler, head of research at London Capital Group in London.
“I’m splitting the outlook in two. Reddit targeting a short-squeeze in Tilray means a quick pump and dump,” he said, while others looked longer-term at benefits from potential legislative changes under Biden and his Democrat allies in Congress.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said in the presidential campaign marijuana would be decriminalized at a federal level in the United States under a Biden administration.
Swaggystocks, which aggregates sentiment on shares discussed on WallStreetBets which has about 8 million participants, showed Sundial and Tilray were the most or highly touted stocks.
According to research firm S3 Partners, short interest in the nearly 200 cannabis stocks in the United States and Canada is $4.95 billion and is highly concentrated in a few names, with “short interest of the top twenty most shorted stocks in the sector at $4.86 billion.”
Short interest in Tilray, measuring the number of shares borrowed by short sellers betting on a price fall, was about 37% on Wednesday compared to 27% at the end of January, financial analytics firm Ortex said.
S3 noted that while Canopy Growth was the largest short in the sector, Tilray “has closed the gap significantly.”
Short-sellers borrow stocks and sell them on, aiming to buy them back later more cheaply and pocket the difference. If the shares move up instead, they face a ‘short squeeze’ as they race to buy the stock to close out their positions to stem losses.
Along with Sundial, other pot stocks such as Aurora Cannabis , were also among the most actively traded in the United States.
The recent surge of activity in stocks spurred by social media has caught the attention of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which announced on Thursday that it suspended trading in “an inactive company amid questions surrounding online promotion of the company’s securities and recent trading activity.”
The order, for the over-the-counter traded SpectraScience , notes there may be a coordinated attempt by certain social media accounts to artificially influence the stock price.
Customers on eToro, a retail trading platform seen as an alternative in Europe to popular U.S. platforms such as Robinhood, opened more positions in Tilray on Wednesday than in the first 10 months of 2020 combined.
One eToro user in Germany, @ChrisBro14, wrote in a thread about Tilray as it traded around $70: “Guess will go to $100. Where do you have TP limit. What do you think it will (do)?”
Interest in the sector lifted cannabis-focused exchange traded funds (ETFs) to new highs, with some more than doubling in value over the past month.
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