‘Ken Griffin Sells Condo’

On June 19 2021, a popular stock trading-based Twitter account tweeted about Citadel hedge fund manager Ken Griffin purportedly selling a condominium in Florida, interpreted as a bullish signal by many retail investors:

Captioned “Well well well, how the turns have tabled” by @TradesTrey (Trey’s Trades), a screenshot depicted the following headline:

Ken Griffin sells remaining Faena House condo for $11.2M

In late May and throughout June 2021, a number of retail stock investors held stock or bought derivatives for theater chain $AMC, anticipating a “short squeeze” for the ticker. On May 28 2021, CNBC’s “AMC short sellers dealt massive $1.2 billion blow after weeklong stock rally” reported:

Investors shorting the meme stock AMC Entertainment are estimated to have lost $1.23 billion over the last week [ending May 28 2021[ as the shares rallied more than 116% since [May 24 2021], according to data from S3 Partners.

The rally cooled off late Friday [May 28 2021] after AMC’s stock skyrocketed as much as 38% during early morning trading. The shares closed at $26.12 per share Friday, up from $13.68 on Monday. At its peak, the stock reached $36.72 a share.

AMC was the most active stock on the New York Stock Exchange by far on [May 28 2021] as more than 650 million shares changed hands. Its 30-day trading volume average is just above 100 million shares, according to FactSet.

For those who missed the GameStop ($GME) rally in January 2021, Investopedia defines a short squeeze the following way:

A short squeeze is an unusual condition that triggers rapidly rising prices in a stock or other tradeable security. For a short squeeze to occur the security must have an unusual degree of short-sellers holding positions in it. The short squeeze begins when the price jumps higher unexpectedly. The condition plays out as a significant measure of the short sellers coincidentally decide to cut losses and exit their positions.

Put very plainly, a short squeeze is commonly associated with institutional investors (like hedge funds) pressuring the price of a stock downwards by “shorting” it — often through the use of derivatives through which the short seller will profit if the stock continues dropping.

When the underlying security goes up in value unexpectedly, short sellers lose money — as CNBC indicated, sometimes incredibly large sums of money:

The more than 1,100% jump in AMC’s stock since January has defied Wall Street analyst predictions. AMC’s business has been under extreme duress. It has around $5 billion in debt and needed to defer $450 million in lease repayments as its revenue largely dried up during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Theaters were closed for several months to help stop the spread of the virus, and when the company reopened its doors, few consumers felt comfortable attending screenings, and movie studios held back new releases.

The unusual conditions of 2020 into 2021 led to a retail investment boom and unpredictable market conditions for hedge funds. Consequently, retail investors often profited on securities like $AMC and $GMC, while hedge funds lost money.

In January 2021, the hedge fund Citadel was widely identified as the “villain” in the Reddit vs. hedge funds GameStop ($GME) battle. A number of related rumors about the $GME rally involved Citadel, and its purported relationship to government figures or retail brokerages like Robinhood:

Citadel’s founder and chief executive officer is Ken Griffin, the man named in the June 2021 tweet above:

In 1987, Ken Griffin, a then-19-year-old sophomore at Harvard University, started trading from his dorm room with a fax machine, a personal computer, and a telephone. From this modest but ambitious beginning, Ken caught the attention of hedge fund pioneer and co-founder of Chicago-based Glenwood Partners, Frank Meyer, earning him the opportunity to establish what would one day become Citadel.

Ken founded Citadel in 1990 and has since served as the firm’s Chief Executive Officer. Today, Citadel is recognized as one of the most respected and successful investment firms in the world, and manages over $39 billion in capital for its partners.

Just as Citadel became emblematic of the institutional money shorting $GME, Griffin (“Kenny G”) was a frequently referenced individual on retail trading forums (and Reddit). Just as retail investors imagined that $GME’s meteoric rise caused financial difficulties for Citadel and its ilk, $AMC investors sought information on the effects of their ticker’s rally on firms like Citadel.

In the viral tweet, Trey’s Trades shared a screenshot of an unlinked article, which commenters quickly pointed out he actually sold in December 2020, well before the $GME frenzy.

We tracked down the article in the viral screenshot on a real estate industry website. It was published on June 18 2021, one day before the viral tweet, and it reported:

The founder and longtime CEO of Chicago-based Citadel sold his remaining penthouse at the ultra-luxury Miami Beach condo building, a three-bedroom, 4,243-square-foot unit, for $11.2 million. It was on the market for $12.5 million.

Griffin, a Daytona Beach native who has amassed a huge residential land portfolio in Palm Beach, paid $60 million for two penthouses in the building in 2015. The purchase was considered a record for residential real estate in South Florida at the time, but the units were never combined.

He sold the larger unit, a four-bedroom, 7,433-square-foot condo, in December [2020] for $35 million. That means he sold the two for about 23 percent less than their combined purchase price, incurring a loss of about $13.8 million on the properties.

That item didn’t specify whether both units were listed together prior to December 2020 (before the first of two sold), or whether Griffin elected to sell the second unit separately. But the final line of the article (which linked to related stories about Griffin’s real estate portfolio throughout) explained:

[Griffin] owns pricey real estate around the world, including in Manhattan, Chicago and London.

In addition to the sale of the first condo unit in December 2020, a paywalled article from that same month reported that Griffin did list both units prior to the first sale in December 2020.

Some text was visible to those not subscribed to the site, and it reported:

Billionaire Ken Griffin parting with Faena House penthouses in Miami Beach at a loss

Griffin paid $60M for both units in 2015 Miami / December 15, 2020

Billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin is bidding adieu to the ultra luxury Faena House in Miami Beach. Griffin sold his larger penthouse for $35 million and is in contract to sell his second penthouse, which is on the market for $12.5 million, according to the Multiple Listing Service. He paid $60 million for both units in 2015.

According to industry news published on December 15 2020, Griffin listed both properties before the December 2020 sale of the larger unit. Griffin’s second unit was under contract as of December 2020, and that unit was eventually sold in June 2021. Based on the date of the second, locked article, Griffin’s sale of the properties occurred more than a month before GameStop ($GME) rallied.

Heavily shorted ticker $AMC began a rally in late May 2021, with CNBC reporting losses over a billion dollars for short sellers. On June 18 2021, a real estate site reported that Citadel CEO Ken Griffin had sold his remaining Florida condo at a loss.

That news report was interpreted as a sign by investors, who inferred that Griffin needed liquid funds as $AMC slowly climbed upward. However, Griffin listed both condos before December 15 2020, when the same site reported that one sold and one was under contract; separate articles focused on Griffin’s large number of global real estate holdings. Although the article in the Twitter screenshot was from June 18 2021, it didn’t seem to related to any happenings with $AMC or $GME, ticker rallies which largely began in January 2021.