UPDATE 7-Chewy executives alarmed at 'Roaring Kitty' stake in pet-product retailer

Reuters · 07/01 10:17
UPDATE 7-Chewy executives alarmed at 'Roaring Kitty' stake in pet-product retailer

Adds detail on Gill's links to Cohen, paragraph 2

By Manas Mishra, Greg Roumeliotis and Suzanne McGee

- Stock influencer Keith Gill, known as "Roaring Kitty," unveiled a 6.6% stake in Chewy CHWY.N on Monday, a surprise move that alarmed executives at the U.S. pet products company.

The Chewy stake is Gill's first known investment beyond GameStop. A link connects these two investments: Ryan Cohen, the billionaire founder of Chewy, is CEO of GameStop. Gill has in the past praised Cohen in his social media posts. Cohen founded Chewy and sold it in 2017.

Gill sent GameStop GME.N shares soaring in 2021 with a series of social media posts that drew a flood of retail money into the company. Its shares have swung wildly since Gill resurfaced online in May, following a three-year hiatus.

Gill's investment raised concerns among Chewy's top brass about asset managers who are shareholders potentially being put off by the ensuing volatility in the stock fueled by Gill's army of individual investors, said a person familiar with the company's thinking. Chewy's executives and board have spoken to Gill, the person added.

Shares in the pet supplies retailer rose as high as $30 on Monday but reversed those gains in volatile trading. They were last down 4.8% at $25.92, with more than 54 million shares trading hands, more than three times 25-day moving average volumes.

The filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission showed Gill bought 9 million shares of Chewy worth about $245 million at the stock's Friday closing price of $27.24, making him Chewy's third-largest shareholder, according to LSEG data.

It was clear if Gill had liquidated any of his position in GameStop, which he disclosed on June 13 was 9 million shares worth at the time around $262.1 million, to fund the Chewy stake. GameStop's shares dropped 6% on Monday, but have gained 33% so far this year.

The SEC, Chewy and Gill did respond to requests for comment.

While Gill has historically revealed his holdings through social media posts, he was required to file with the SEC in the case of Chewy because his investment exceeded 5% of the company's outstanding shares.

The SEC filing indicates Gill purchased the Chewy stake on June 24, three days before he posted a picture of a puppy on social media platform X that briefly sent Chewy shares to a one-year high, and also sent shares in Petco and Wag up.

Separately, GameStop investors sued Gill on Friday, alleging he engaged in a "pump-and-dump" scheme that cost them money. Gill has denied past claims he had talked up the stock for his own gain, arguing he was "abundantly clear" that his aggressive investing style was unsuitable for most people.

The Massachusetts securities regulator is probing Gill's trading activities in GameStop, Reuters and other media previously reported.


'NOT A CAT'

Once an office worker, Gill shot to fame after his cat memes and exuberant YouTube streams in which he frequently wore a bright red pirate bandana drew thousands of copycat bets on GameStop, crushing hedge funds that had bet against the stock.

In Monday's SEC filing, Gill remained on-brand, appearing to add a section that read: "Check the appropriate box to designate whether you are a cat" under which the descriptor "I am a cat" was checked.

Gill has consistently argued that GameStop is undervalued and that its management team, led by Cohen, would turn the videogame retailer around. Gill's attraction to Chewy was immediately obvious, although some analysts speculated Cohen's historic involvement in the company may have been a draw for Gill.

Cohen, who co-founded Chewy, took on GameStop in 2021 when he joined the board and was later elected its chairman, laying out a strategy to push the bricks and mortar retailer into e-commerce.

Cohen did respond to a request for comment.

In his YouTube GOOGL.O livestreams, Gill has repeatedly voiced his admiration for Cohen. "This guy is the man!" he exclaimed in a video dating back to January 2021, shortly after Cohen and two former Chewy colleagues joined GameStop's board. "I'm excited about Ryan Cohen being at the helm."

Chewy's board is in touch with Cohen, according to the source familiar with the company's thinking.

Shares of Chewy, which sells pet food and medicine online, have risen 15% so far in 2024 but declined in the three preceding years as spending on pets slowed after a post-pandemic boom.

Trading volumes in Chewy stock options have been unusually high over the past 10 sessions, with some 158,000 contracts changing hands daily. That's four times the average over the preceding year, according to a Reuters analysis of Trade Alert data.

Call options, typically bought to express a bullish view, were particularly active. Contracts betting on Chewy finishing above $30 by mid-July were the most actively traded options on the stock over the last 10 days.


(Reporting by Manas Mishra and Pratik Jain in Bengaluru, Svea Herbst-Bayliss in Boston; Saqib Ahmed and Suzanne McGee in New York; writing by Michelle Price; Editing by Devika Syamnath, Megan Davies and Trevor Hunnicutt)

((Manas.Mishra@thomsonreuters.com; www.twitter.com/Manaswrites15;))