* Volkswagen shares cool down after hitting 2015 high
* BaFin says it is monitoring stock in routine way
* Institutional and retail investors warm to EV ambitions (Adds fund manager comment, updates stock prices)
March 18 (Reuters) - An outsized rally in Volkswagen shares has drawn the attention of Germany’s top market watchdog as heavy-volume trading spurred by the carmaker’ electric vehicle ambitions sent the stock rising as much as 32% this week.
Shares in Volkswagen AG reversed course on Thursday, however, after hitting their highest level since April 2015 as regulator BaFin said it was monitoring the share price move and a buying frenzy from the United States appeared to cool down.
A spokeswoman said BaFin was watching the move in a “routine way,” without elaborating.
A raft of announcements on its electric vehicle expansion strategy to challenge market leader Tesla Inc has lifted Volkswagen shares more than 50% so far this year, luring institutional and retail investors globally.
Momentum in the share price grew on Monday after the 83-year-old group unveiled it would build 12 battery cell plants in Europe by 2030 and expand charging infrastructure for electric cars.
Interest from U.S. individual investors was particularly strong. Volumes in its American depositary receipts (ADRs), seen as a proxy for retail traders’ interest, peaked at around 20 times the 90-day average on Tuesday.
But on Thursday the U.S.-listed stock halted a five-day winning streak, falling more than 9% in New York trade. That dragged lower shares in Frankfurt, which still remained on course for their best weekly run in nearly a year.
Stefan de Schutter, portfolio manager at Alpha Trading in Frankfurt, said that given the huge price swings, BaFin’s move had to be seen as “business as usual”.
“The shares are dragged down by the ADRs. Seems as if parts of the trade are unwinding,” he said.
Volkswagen’s main shares fell more than 2% by 1523 GMT and the less liquid ordinary stock was still up 6% but off highs. Shares of Porsche, which holds 53.1% of the Volkswagen group’s voting rights, rose 3%.
Despite the pullback, Volkswagen main shares remained up 19% on the week. The surge has lifted Volkswagen’s market value above $160 billion, making it the biggest company of the DAX benchmark index, ahead of software group SAP.
“We fundamentally like the name ... we think not only institutional, but also a wave of private investors is increasingly interested,” wrote Barclays analysts.
“We think VW ticks all the right boxes and remains very attractively priced,” they added.
Reporting by Danilo Masoni in Milan Additional reporting by Hakan Ersen, Tom Sims and Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Matthew Lewis