Retail investors bet on bankrupt US companies rising again

Retail shareholders in the US are piling into stocks of bankrupt companies in a sign of the speculative investment wave sweeping across the US market.

Shares in Hertz, the car hire group, and JC Penney, the US retailer, have more than doubled in value since the start of the month despite both companies wading through bankruptcy proceedings that could end with the stocks falling to zero.

Many professional fund managers and analysts are stumped at the risky bets but a growing army of have-a-go retail traders is willing to wager that last-minute turnrounds for the companies might deliver gains on deeply depressed stock prices.

The rally in speculative stocks has only intensified the divide between markets and the economy, with the longest US expansion on record ending in February as coronavirus hit the country. Despite a double-digit jobless rate the benchmark S&P 500 is only marginally lower for the year: on Tuesday it briefly recouped the entirety of its losses since the year began.

Users of Robinhood, the US-based stock trading app, have bought more shares in Hertz over the past three days than in any other listed US company, doubling bets in a week, according to data tracking holdings on the platform.

“When the retail investor starts to view the market as a one-way bet it’s usually an alarm bell and that does seem to be happening,” said Paul Markham, global equities portfolio manager for Newton Investment Management.

Bargain hunters wade into stocks in big trouble

Hertz filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May, sending its shares down 80 per cent. But since then the shares have gained more than 800 per cent as retail investors shrug off news that prompted professional fund managers to sell. The company has $18bn of debt and faces the prospect of selling its fleet of used cars into a shaky market.

The run-up in Hertz’s stock price doesn’t “make any sense whatsoever”, said Glenn Reynolds, chief executive of CreditSights on a call with investors on Monday, alluding to the…

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