'You could lose everything' on meme stocks: Franklin Templeton CEO

The meme stock craze has cooled off — at least temporarily. Over the past week, favored equities GameStop (GME) and AMC (AMC) have plummeted, dropping about 10% and 21% respectively. 

The decline affirms the fears of observers who had warned that a pullback was likely for shares elevated by what some consider speculative trading. 

In a new interview, Franklin Templeton (BEN) CEO Jenny Johnson — whose investment firm manages more than $1.5 trillion in assets — criticized the trading as risky investing that could produce lucrative highs or devastating lows. However, she said she’s “optimistic” about new trading technology that helps everyday people access the market, predicting the trend will give traders opportunities otherwise exclusive to the rich.

“On the meme stocks, I never like investing where there isn’t fundamentals behind it,” she says. 

“I think that the challenge with things like the meme stocks is yeah, if you time it right, you’re going to do great,” adds Johnson, who became CEO at Franklin Templeton last February. “On the other hand, you could lose everything.”

To be sure, shares in meme stock darlings GameStop and AMC remain well above where they stood at the outset of the year. GameStop has leapt more than 900% over that period, and AMC has shot up more than 1,750%. 

Shareholders in AMC showed their strength last week when online opposition to the potential issuance of new shares prompted CEO Adam Aron to cancel a vote on the proposal. 

Overall, the stock frenzy has fueled a record flow of money into the market from retail investors. Last month, the traders bought almost $28 billion of stocks and exchange-traded funds on a net basis, the largest amount in a single month since at least 2014, according to data from Vanda Research that was reported by the Wall Street Journal.

But wealthy investors continue to dominate the stock market. The wealthiest 10% of U.S. families own 84% of overall equities and 92% of directly held equities, according to a 2019 Federal Reserve survey analyzed by The New York Times.

A GameStop storefront is shown before opening Thursday morning, Jan. 28, 2021, in Dallas. The online trading platform Robinhood is moving to restrict trading in GameStop and other stocks that have soared recently due to rabid buying by smaller investors. GameStop stock has rocketed from below $20 to around $350 this month as a volunteer army of investors on social media challenged big institutions who has placed market bets that the stock would fall. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

A GameStop storefront is shown before opening Thursday morning, Jan. 28, 2021, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Johnson, the granddaughter of Franklin Templeton founder Rupert Johnson, began working in the mailroom at the investment fund over holidays at age 14. After a stint at Drexel Burnham, she joined Franklin Templeton in the late ’80s, serving in various executive roles before she became CEO.

Johnson said new trading technology will allow everyday people to access tools and trading opportunities that had only been available to the privileged. 

“You’re going to see that actually what technology is doing is it is bringing to the masses what historically was only available to the ultra-high net worth,” she says. 

“What makes me more optimistic is that there’s going to be these things that traditionally weren’t available to everybody that now because of technology are going to actually be available as investment opportunities,” she later adds.

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Roy Walsh

Roy Walsh

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