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By Saqib Iqbal Ahmed and Sinéad Carew
NEW YORK (Reuters) - GameStop ended 7.3% higher on Wednesday after wild gyrations in the resurgent rally that has vaulted shares of the video game retailer and other so-called meme stocks closer to the peaks of late January.
Shares of GameStop closed at $265 following turbulent trading that saw them rise by as much as 41% to a peak of $348.50, a move some analysts said was accelerated by bearish investors unwinding bets against the stock.
The rally put the company’s market capitalization at $18.48 billion, making it the biggest listing on the S&P 600 index of small-cap stocks. At their session high, GameStop shares were up 800% from last month's low but still 28% below their late January peak.
Traders exchanged almost $20 billion worth of GameStop shares, making it the Wall Street session's second most-traded company after Tesla and ahead of Apple.
Other stocks popular with retail investors in forums such as Reddit’s WallStreetBets also enjoyed outsized gains. Headphone maker Koss Corp soared more than 100% at one point and cinema operator AMC Entertainment jumped nearly 19% before erasing gains.
The moves drew cheers on WallStreetBets and other online forums and eyerolls from other market participants.
"You just have wild speculation .. They're guessing," said Phil Blancato, CEO of Ladenburg Thalmann Asset Management in New York. "I wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole right now."
Investors short GameStop shares have incurred over $1.3 billion in losses over the last couple of days, forcing some to abandon their positions and buy back the stock in a phenomenon known as a short squeeze, said Ihor Dusaniwsky, managing director of predictive analytics at S3 Partners.
Shorts have covered some 3 million shares over the last seven days, worth $742 million, the firm’s data showed.
"As GameStop keeps going up, we are going to continue to see short-covering as more shorts reach their maximum pain threshold and are forced out of their trades," Dusaniwsky said.
GameStop retains a legion of devout followers after a social media frenzy in January triggered a massive rally in which its shares surged more than 1,600%.
That spike triggered a short squeeze that shook hedge funds such as Melvin Capital.
But fuel for further short squeezes may be running out: About 20.5% of GameStop's share float is sold short, the lowest in at least three years, according to S3 data.
Market strategists have also said tens of billions of dollars from stimulus checks sent to Americans through U.S. President Joe Biden's coronavirus relief package could find their way into the stock market, including into the "meme stocks" promoted by retail traders online.
GameStop bulls also hope for a profit boost from the transition to e-commerce for the video game retailer, led by shareholder and Chewy.com co-founder Ryan Cohen, who is on the company's board. The company has said it would report earnings on March 23.
Denizens of WallStreetBets exhorted one another to hold on for more gains, while others lamented selling too early.
"Makes (me) physically sick I sold all 39 shares of GME at $120 at a loss cause I thought it wasn’t happening again," Reddit user TheKingTodo wrote.
Separately, on Wednesday, shares of U.S. gaming company Roblox Corp RBLX.N closed up 54.4% in its New York Stock Exchange trading debut on Wednesday, valuing the company at $45.2 billion.
(Reporting by Sinead Carew and Saqib Iqbal Ahmed in New York; Additional reporting by Aaron Saldanha in Bengaluru and Noel Randewich in Oakland, California; Editing by Ira Iosebashvili, Lisa Shumaker and David Gregorio)