Meme stocks, SPACS and biotech are not so hot anymore

People walk by a GameStop store in New York.
GameStop Corp. has lost more than one-fifth of its value to start the year.
(Associated Press)

Meme stocks, blank-check companies and highflying biotech names that were all the rage at the start of 2021 are now running cold.

The first two weeks of the year have brought a 17% tumble for a group of stocks that went public via mergers with blank-check firms and a 10% correction for the biotechnology industry.

That’s a very different picture from a year ago when investors pushed easy money into the bubble of special purpose acquisition companies or highflying stocks backed by the portfolio of exchange-traded funds in Cathie Wood’s ARK Investment Management.


The SPAC frenzy has fizzled over the last 10 months as investors shy away from the vehicle. The De-SPAC Index, a group of 25 stocks that went public by merging with a SPAC, has slumped 17% to start the year, descending into a string of fresh record lows.

Some were just in it for the money. Others saw a chance to stick it to Wall Street. Between them, they made GameStop the latest symbol of chaotic internet-fueled change.

Jan. 29, 2021

Another casualty of the market’s choppy start to 2022 are meme stocks, the group of companies that saw a parabolic rise this time last year. GameStop Corp., the stock that gripped the market, has lost more than one-fifth of its value to start the year and is mired in its longest losing streak since early August.

Retail investor malaise has weighed on the broader meme stock ecosystem, with a Bloomberg-tracked basket trading roughly where it was last year before the mania consumed the market.

The group of 37 stocks is down more than 7% this year, which compares with a more than 30% rally the index saw at the start of 2021.

A beneficiary of the surge in thematic ETFs was Wood’s suite of ARK ETFs. Although its flagship ARK Innovation ETF (ARKK) rallied 14% at the start of 2021, outperforming a flat Standard & Poor’s 500 index, it has been caught in a vicious downward spiral this year. ARKK has fallen 15% to start the year with losses more than triple those of the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 index.

Weakness is apparent in the biotechnology industry and stands out for trading of the equal-weighted SPDR S&P Biotech ETF (XBI). The ETF, which is tracked by fund specialists to measure the industry’s performance, has slumped 10% this year after its worst year ever. That rocky performance has extended into 2022 with the ETF bouncing off the lowest level since May 2020.


A lack of mergers and acquisitions and the general risk-off environment are among the factors experts blame for the latest leg lower.

Has any era given birth to more dubious investment mechanisms than today?

May 13, 2021