A 20-year-old college student went big on Bed Bath & Beyond at the right time, making close to $110 million off the meme-stock favorite after its share price quadrupled and before its buzziest stakeholder signaled plans to sell everything.
His timing was impeccable: Within 24 hours, activist investor Ryan Cohen signaled that he intended to sell the 9.8 percent stake acquired though his venture capital firm RC Ventures. It was Cohen’s interest in Bed Bath & Beyond that lit up online message boards like Reddit’s r/WallStreetBets, driving up the share price. So when reports emerged Wednesday afternoon that Cohen had filed a Form 144 with the Securities and Exchange Commission — a notice of intention to sell shares — the stock slid in after-hours trading. It closed Thursday at $18.55, down 19.6 percent, and plunged another 35 percent after hours.
Cohen has a devoted following among small retail investors because of his key role in the GameStop frenzy. In late 2020 and early 2021, traders on Reddit and other online communities snapped up the video game retailer’s shares, intent on capitalizing on a company that many institutional investors had written off. The stock surged from nearly $5 to more than $480 — a stunning rise for a bricks-and-mortar business in decline. The run-up fueled froth and volatility, and the meme stock was born.
Small investors joined forces and went looking for other companies that Wall Street was shorting, or betting against. The strategy outlined on Reddit employed what is known as a short squeeze, in which those betting against a stock — usually hedge funds — are forced to buy shares to close out their position.
Cohen founded the online pet food company Chewy and later became the board chair of GameStop. His plan to revive the video game retailer was buoyed by an unexpected explosion of online enthusiasm for the company last year, sending its stock price vaulting upward and making it the first of many meme stocks. Others included the movie theater chain AMC, smartphone maker BlackBerry and telecom company Nokia.
Freeman attends the University of Southern California, where he’s studying applied mathematics and economics, according to the Financial Times. The report said he raised funds for the initial investment by Freeman Capital from friends and family. His LinkedIn profile indicates that he has interned at the New Jersey-based hedge fund Volaris Capital.
In a July 21 letter to the company’s board, he said Bed Bath & Beyond is “facing an existential crisis for its survival.” He encouraged it to stop burning through cash so quickly, restructure its capital, and raise more funding.
“Freeman Capital’s plan for the realignment of [Bed Bath & Beyond] consists of two crucial legs: cutting debt and raising capital,” he wrote.
Bed Bath & Beyond has been struggling for years. Its first-quarter sales were 25 percent lower than the previous year as the retailer posted a net loss of $358 million. It also has $1.37 billion in debt.
When the stock soared more than 300 percent as it gathered attention online, Freeman took the opportunity to liquidate his holdings, SEC filings show, selling $130 million worth of stock on Tuesday.
Freeman told the financial news site MarketWatch that he “did not expect the stock to soar as it did,” adding that he now thinks it has too much risk to the downside.
“I did expect that as [Bed Bath & Beyond] better structured its balance sheet for value to be unlocked. I felt at those elevated levels [the stock] was not worth it from a risk/reward standpoint.”
According to the Financial Times, Freeman and his uncle Scott Freeman, a former pharmaceutical executive, have separately taken an activist stake in the pharmaceutical company Mind Medicine, a New York-based company that focuses on psychedelic-inspired medicines.