Ryan Cohen wants to be the Carl Icahn of meme stocks.
The Chewy co-founder turned activist investor turned GameStop chairman is making another move on a different company popular with individual investors, notifying the board of Bed Bath & Beyond
on Sunday evening that he has taken a 9.8% stake in its shares and asking for some changes.
On Monday, Bed Bath & Beyond opened up 85.78% marking the stock’s largest intraday percent increase since its public offering in June 1992.
Cohen’s letter to Bed Bath & Beyond is eerily similar in tone and length to the one he sent the GameStop
board in November 2020, demanding that the brick and mortar operation embrace e-commerce. Since sending that letter, Cohen has increased his stake in GameStop, been elected chairman of the board, played a key role in reshuffling the C-suite, introduced an NFT marketplace, and fired off many many inscrutable tweets.
While all of that activity hasn’t yet fully transformed GameStop in the ways that Cohen urged in his letter, they have granted him a cultlike leader status among retail traders, turned GameStop into the Ur-meme stock, and sent the company’s shares up as much as 2,850%, allowing Cohen and his team to pay down a lot of GameStop’s corporate debt.
More than a year after the manic short squeeze on GameStop stock, shares are still up more than 1,000% since Cohen’s investment and he has become as much of a brand as GameStop itself, with his most devoted fans referring to him as “RC,” combing through his tweets for deeper meaning and making him the Blackbeard of modern Wall Street, a market pirate hunting for short sellers.
Sunday evening’s news is only burnishing that reputation.
“RC flew the Jolly Roger,” blared the headline of a Monday morning post on GameStop subreddit r/Superstonk. “Beyond is the warning shot.”
Like his GameStop missive, Sunday’s letter is also three pages long and excoriates Bed Bath & Beyond’s leadership for failing to give investors the returns that Cohen claims they deserve.
“Our own experience taking Chewy from a start-up to the ultimate destination for pets leads us to believe that focusing on a core set of objectives drives superior outcomes,” reads Cohen’s letter, echoing a passage in his letter to GameStop.
But unlike his GameStop letter, which focused on retrofitting the company’s existing business, Cohen’s proposed changes for Bed Bath & Beyond include management speeding up its plan to streamline inventory, but also floats the idea of selling BBBY’s Buy Buy Baby subsidiary which Cohen uses sales projections to conclude “is likely much more valuable than the Company’s entire market capitalization today.”
Using that valuation, Cohen estimates that a well-conducted sale of Buy Buy Baby could be used to pay down Bed Bath & Beyond’s debt. According to FactSet, the company is currently sitting on $5.2 billion of liabilities.
Wedbush analyst Seth Basham took umbrage with Cohen’s valuation of the Baby franchise in a Monday morning note, writing “We disagree with Mr. Cohen’s assessment of the buybuybaby (Baby) business being worth “multiple” billions
of dollars in a sale, but we agree that missteps occurred and the strategic plan
could be narrowed.”
Neither Cohen nor Bed, Bath & Beyond responded to requests for comment on the letter, but the home goods retailer did release a statement early Monday acknowledging receipt of the document and offering “Bed Bath & Beyond’s Board and management team maintain a consistent dialogue with our shareholders and, while we have had no prior contact with RC Ventures, we will carefully review their letter and hope to engage constructively around the ideas they have put forth.”
But in one of those ideas, Cohen isn’t just stopping at spinning off Baby, he also has a plan for Bed Bath & Beyond that makes him sound less like a millennial Icahn and more like a Henry Kravis for the Ritalin generation.
Cohen would like for the board of Bed Bath & Beyond to explore selling the entire company to “well-capitalized financial sponsors with track records in the retail and consumer sectors and the ability to pay a meaningful premium,” which reads like a wordy description of “private equity giant.”
That idea, while bold, is also not popular with analysts.
“This is not an ideal time to explore strategic alternatives,” cautioned Wells Fargo’s Zachary Fademas, citing a market downturn, rising rates and the Russian invasion of Ukraine as issues for such a move, and things Cohen didn’t have to contend with when he made his move on GameStop.
And speaking of GameStop, shares in Cohen’s original meme stock were down more than 9% at midday Monday, despite Cohen making it clear in his letter to Bed Bath & Beyond that his focus remains on selling videogames and not fluffy towels, at least for now.
Many retail investors on social media seemed unfazed by the idea that Cohen’s attention might be shared going forward but at least one Cohen critic sees the new venture as a signal that he might be more concerned with playing the gentleman pirate than finishing what he started at GameStop.
“Cohen’s utter lack of any changes at GameStop whatsoever signal that he has no strategy,” Wedbush analyst Michael Wedbush told MemeMoney. “And his shift of focus to Bed Bath & Beyond may indicate that he’s grown bored with the pace of change at GameStop and his ability to make something happen there.”
Pachter’s views will almost certainly come under fire from self-professed “Apes” devoted to their shares in GameStop and Bed Bath & Beyond, many of whom are already pointing to an old enemy as a key factor in GME’s pullback and the fact that Bed Bath & Beyond had fallen back to a “mere” 29% gain by midday Monday:
Short interest on BBBY was up 7.5% on Monday, according to data from Ortex, bringing the total share of free float stock to almost 29.6%, a reminder that meme stocks usually come with a lot of active Wall Street cynicism…usually based on the kind of issues that Cohen himself outlined in Sunday’s letter.
For GameStop, however, Ortex data revealed that short interest had declined about 1% on the day, perhaps indicating that shorts are following Cohen in their own way by getting out of their GME trade and into BBBY.
Neither Cohen nor Bed, Bath & Beyond responded to requests for comment.