By Sinéad Carew
(Reuters) -Shares in heavily shorted AMC Entertainment Holdings closed up 1.6% in busy trading on Friday as one analyst raised their price target for the cinema operator's stock, a focus in social media forums popular among retail investors.
AMC's gain was forcing bearish investors out of their positions, according to one analyst who watches short-sellers.
AMC last traded at $12.98 after rising as high as $14.34 during the session, with volume 3.2 times the 10-day moving average and the stock the most-heavily traded on all exchanges.
The stock has gained 44% in six sessions. It rallied 23.7% on Thursday after raising about $428 million from a share sale.
B. Riley Securities analyst Eric Wold raised his AMC price target on Friday to $16 from $13, saying the capital raise bolsters its balance sheet. Wold is the only analyst of nine with a 'buy' rating on AMC according to Refinitiv.
But another analyst, Eric Handler at MKM Partners called the move a "double-edged sword" as new share issues dilute equity value.
"Retail investors have got behind this stock and have created a huge frenzy," said Handler. "This is not growth capital; this is survival capital."
Handler has a "sell" rating on the stock and a $1 price target compared with the $2 median target.
AMC shares have been extremely volatile this year, trading in a range of $1.91 to $20.36. After rising as much as 920% by late January, they ended Friday up 512% year-to-date.
Along with video game retailer GameStop Corp, AMC was caught up in a surge of retail investor buying in January that left hedge funds shorting the stock with losses.
According to Swaggysstocks.com sentiment tracker, AMC was the top trending stock on Reddit's WallStreetBets, which is frequented by retail investors.
About 22% of AMC's float, or 92 million shares, were still sold short, according to data from Ihor Dusaniwsky, managing director of predictive analytics at S3 Partners.
"We’re seeing continued short-covering in AMC, with 3.4 million shares, worth $44 million, covered over the last week," he said. Dusaniwsky expects Friday's price gain to exacerbate the trend "as more short sellers get squeezed out of their positions."
After trading volume of 296 million shares on Thursday, Friday's volume was also elevated, with 206.6 million shares changing hands.
(Reporting By Sinéad Carew and Lance Tupper; Editing by Dan Grebler and David Gregorio)