With more than three decades at The Prudent Speculator under my belt, I have long understood that bizarre events take place in the equity markets.
Sometimes the wackiness occurs because of a case of mistaken identity where investors actually buy the wrong stock. Case in point, tiny Zoom Technologies (then under the ticker symbol ZOOM; now under the symbol ZTNO) soaring not once (on Xoom.com confusion in 1999), not twice (on Zoom Video confusion in 2019), but three times (on ZoomInfo confusion in 2020); or measurement instrument concern Signal Advance (SIGL) skyrocketing this month from $0.60 to more than $60.00 at one point thanks to an Elon Musk tweet suggesting that folks should use the Signal social networking application…with which Signal Advance has nothing to do!
The latest puzzling move into the stratosphere has been on struggling brick-and-mortar video-game retailer GameStop (GME), shares of which jumped another 18% today to close at $76.79, after trading as high as $159.18 at one point. Believe it or not, the year-to-date gain on GME is now more than 300%. While we have no doubt that investors in this case are not buying the wrong company, credit for the gigantic rally is attributed to tremendous interest of day-traders in chat rooms talking the stock higher AND the mother of all short squeezes, given that as of December 31, something on the order of 140% of the freely traded shares (i.e. the “float”) supposedly were sold short.
Certainly, markets can stay irrational often longer than shorts can stay solvent and we are not making a call on the rationality of the GME rocket-ship ride. But, as we suspect that investors are looking for the next GameStop, we offer the observation that the 131 stocks in the Russell 3000 index with a short-interest-to-float ratio of 20% or higher soared on average 5.8% today alone. Those one-day gains were led by Accelerate Diagnostics (AXDX), up 47.6%, Vaxart Inc. (VXRT), up 40.8%, and Dynavax Technologies (DVAX), up 25.5%.
We are not fans of any of those names, given our focus on buying and patiently holding undervalued stocks for their long-term appreciation potential, but for those looking for a brick-and-mortar retailer that produces far more bottom-line black ink than GameStop, the latest recommendation in The Prudent Speculator we think fits the potential short-squeeze bill.
Discount retail chain Big Lots (BIG) had 23.3% of its float held short as of December 31. The company recently updated its guidance for fiscal Q4 financial results to be released at the end of next month. Management now expects $2.40 to $2.50 of earnings per share, versus the $2.39 earned in the same quarter a year ago, but well below the $3.06 for which analysts were looking. BIG experienced a slightly weaker Christmas season due to lower inventory levels, although e-commerce grew a spectacular 135% quarter-to-date, while gross margin is expected to be flat given transportation constraints, inventory rebuilding and labor shortages.
The stock dipped on that news…for a day or so…before moving higher, perhaps because folks realized that BIG still trades at an attractive forward P/E ratio near 10, while management was upbeat in its longer-term outlook. Not surprisingly, we remain fans of BIG and are pleased that the share count has been reduced by more than 25% over the past five years and that the company has a whopping $344 million remaining on a recently announced repurchase program, after buying back $56 million of stock thus far in the latest fiscal quarter. The dividend yield is 2.3% and our Target Price for BIG stands at $77.