AMC shares add to rally with strong focus among retail investors

May 14 (Reuters) - Shares in heavily shorted AMC Entertainment Holdings were up 4.0% in heavy trading on Friday, with the cinema operator the top focus on social media forums popular among retail investors.

The gain was forcing bearish investors out of their positions, according to one analyst who watches short-sellers.

AMC last traded at $13.28 after rising as high as $14.34 earlier in the session, with volume 2.5 times the 10-day moving average and the stock the most-heavily traded on all exchanges.

It gained 23.7% on Thursday after the company said it raised about $428 million from a share sale, capitalizing on retail-driven interest.

While the extra capital should help support the company, MKM Partners analyst Eric Handler called it a “double-edged sword” as the issuance of new shares dilutes equity value.

“Retail investors have got behind this stock and have created a huge frenzy,” said Handler. “This is not growth capital; this is survival capital.”

Handler has a “sell” rating on the stock and a $1 price target, compared with the median target of $2 from nine analysts, according to Refinitiv data.

AMC shares have been extremely volatile this year, trading in a range of $1.91 to $20.36. After rising as much as 920% just in 2021 in late January, the stock was last up about 580% for the first four and a half months of the year.

Along with video game retailer GameStop Corp, AMC was caught up in a surge of buying by retail investors that forced hedge funds shorting the stock to take losses.

According to sentiment tracker, AMC was the top trending stock on Reddit’s WallStreetBets, which is frequented by retail investors.

About 22% of AMC’s float, or 92 million shares, were still sold short, according to data from Ihor Dusaniwsky, managing director of predictive analytics at S3 Partners.

“We’re seeing continued short-covering in AMC, with 3.4 million shares, worth $44 million, covered over the last week,” he said. Dusaniwsky expects Friday’s price gain to exacerbate the trend “as more short sellers get squeezed out of their positions.”

A total 296 million shares changed hands on Thursday and Friday’s volume was also elevated, with more than 158 million shares traded less than four hours into the session. (Reporting By Sinéad Carew; Editing by Dan Grebler)