Ryan Cohen’s GameStop Gambit Raises Specter of His Spotty Record
Billionaire Ryan Cohen’s appointment to lead GameStop Corp. drew cheers across the social-media platforms that made him a meme-stock icon. But investors may want to hold the applause based on his spotty record of making money for them.
Billionaire Ryan Cohen's appointment to lead GameStop Corp. drew cheers across the social-media platforms that made him a meme-stock icon. But investors may want to hold the applause based on his spotty record of making money for them.
Cohen, who helped spark a more than 2,000% surge in the video-game seller's shares in early 2021, was named the firm's chief executive officer on Thursday. He takes his post just as the movie Dumb Money, based on the GameStop trading frenzy that burned hedge funds and enriched small investors at the time, hits theaters nationwide.
The company's shares are now 80% below their January 2021 peak. And Wall Street is skeptical that Cohen will be able to engineer a turnaround, regardless of the retail crowd's euphoria and forgiveness of the poor performance of other companies in which he's taken large stakes.
“Cohen's appointment ensures GameStop's demise,” Wedbush's Michael Pachter, one of three analysts tracking the stock, said Thursday.
Retailers Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. and Nordstrom Inc. have also delivered losses to the individuals who bought and held after reports Cohen had taken a stake. And Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.'s stock has slumped since the January report that Cohen had built a holding.
In a memo to employees Thursday, Cohen emphasized GameStop's need to be profitable and said “extreme frugality” is needed, CNBC reported.
“I'm not getting paid, so I'm either going down with the ship or turning the company around. I much prefer the latter,” he said in the memo, according to CNBC.
Representatives for Cohen and GameStop didn't respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment.
He became an idol to individual investors after gaining a seat on GameStop's board in January 2021 as shares skyrocketed. His appeal was cemented by his tweets hitting back at critics, as investors flocked to create memes praising the Chewy founder, who made an initial fortune selling the pet supply retailer to PetSmart in 2017.
Cohen's push to re-shape GameStop in the mold of Amazon.com Inc. hasn't worked out as planned. The company has gone through four CEOs in less than six years. Cohen's investment firm, RC Ventures, has been among the largest shareholders since 2020.
While investors who bought in August 2020 when he disclosed his first stake are up some 1,100%, the firm has shed $19 billion in value from a 2021 peak with earnings stagnating.
Bed Bath & Beyond took the meme-stock baton in 2022, surging after Cohen disclosed an investment. He then appointed three board members, triggering another leg up in the shares.
Analysts downplayed his push to sell the company's Buybuy Baby division at a lofty valuation at the time. However, retail traders jumped at the chance to get in on what seemed ripe to be the next meme stock.
Instead, the stock's 86% intraday surge in March 2022 soon evaporated, and Cohen dumped his shares and options in August 2022, pocketing $68.1 million in profit. In April 2023, the company filed for bankruptcy despite efforts to keep operating, wiping out the value for investors.
This year, reports circulated that Cohen had taken a stake in Alibaba with plans to make a rare activist investment in a Chinese company. Since the report on the position in mid-January, the ADRs that track the e-commerce giant have slumped 26%. It's unclear if Cohen has outperformed his followers given Bloomberg News reported he built the stake in the second half of last year.
Just weeks after news of the Alibaba holding circulated, Cohen pushed to shake up another retailer, Nordstrom.
However, Bloomberg News reported in April that he withdrew plans to nominate candidates for the firm's board. Any retail traders who bought on news of Cohen's stake and held on would have lost roughly a third of their money.
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