NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) – Even after a retail frenzy that saw GameStop become the hottest stock in the world and a dog-themed joke cryptocurrency gain billions in value, the whirlwind trading in an obscure Hong Kong financial business stands out as spectacular.

The rapid rise of AMTD Digital – a barely profitable financial services firm – is a tale that, while reminiscent of last year’s meme-stock frenzy, is even more mysterious. The company’s shares in New York skyrocketed in less than three weeks from their US$7.80 initial public offering (IPO) price to an intraday high of US$2,555, an eye-popping jump of more than 32,000 per cent.

Perhaps even more perplexing, AMTD Digital’s IPO prospectus lists total sales of just US$25 million (S$34.6 million) for the year ended April 2021. Still, that did not stop the company’s market value from ballooning to US$310 billion at last Tuesday’s (Aug 2) close, making it larger than industry stalwarts like Goldman Sachs and Bank of America.

“I am not entirely sure what the business model there is, but that has not mattered to the Reddit crowd who is dipping in like piranhas,” said Mr Max Gokhman, chief investment officer at money manager AlphaTrAI.

Much like the retail-induced mania of early 2021, which catapulted stocks like GameStop and AMC Entertainment Holdings to baffling highs before they plunged just as quickly, AMTD Digital’s run seems likely to be short-lived. Since hitting a record on Tuesday, ATMD Digital has fallen by 57 per cent, erasing about US$175 billion (S$242 billion) in market value along the way. This is more than the entire current market capitalisation of companies including Morgan Stanley, Intel and Goldman Sachs.

Still, it is hard to pin the stock’s wild moves entirely on the retail crowd. While AMTD Digital appeared high on Fidelity’s list of most actively traded stocks multiple times during the week, it lacks a few key characteristics.

For starters, AMTD Digital does not yet have any options available to be traded. Frenzied buying of call options was a hallmark of the GameStop and AMC stock surges. Trading volumes, meanwhile, have also been extremely low for a majority of the past week’s moves. Despite seeing swings of at least 40 per cent in either direction, the stock has yet to crack 500,000 shares traded on a single day. On Friday, just over 50,000 shares changed hands, its sixth straight session of declining volume.

As for the retail traders themselves, even a cursory search of the top posts on Reddit’s WallStreetBets forum shows a flood of denials of any involvement.

AMTD family

AMTD Digital’s frenetic moves also led to extreme volatility in the shares of one of its parent companies, AMTD Idea Group. That firm, which is part of the larger AMTD Group umbrella, owns roughly 88.7 per cent of AMTD Digital’s outstanding shares. It, too, saw a wave of buying last week, soaring as much as 520 per cent on Tuesday alone.

On Friday, AMTD Digital announced that the underwriters of its mid-July IPO had decided to exercise their full greenshoe option. This means they will be able to purchase an additional 2.4 million American depository shares at their listing price of US$7.80 each, roughly 99 per cent below where they closed on Friday.

AMTD Global Markets was the lead underwriter on AMTD Digital’s IPO, responsible for nearly 90 per cent of the shares, meaning it could potentially profit off its involvement.

That has all shone a spotlight on AMTD Group chairman and chief executive officer Calvin Choi, a major shareholder, who is currently facing an industry ban in Hong Kong for failing to disclose conflicts of interest when he worked at UBS Group.

Already, some firms are cutting ties. Billionaire Li Ka-shing’s CK Group said on Thursday that it would sell its remaining stake in AMTD Group.