GameStop (GME -6.71%) reported impressive revenue growth in Q1 2021, crushing the narrative that it's a failing brick-and-mortar video game retailer with a bleak outlook. That said, investors should aware that the company is under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for its share run-up, that was primarily orchestrated by the Reddit commmunity WallStreetBets (WSB).
Many WSB traders publicly disclosed their identities while promoting the stock in the past six months, leading to them becoming prime targets for possible litigation or criminal investigations. Meanwhile, GameStop is taking advantage of the run-up to issue more stock at the expense of existing shareholders. Is the stock still a safe bet for potential investors?
The good news
GameStop had a spectacular quarter. In Q1 2021, the company closed down 12.7% of its roughly 4,000 stores in operations. Despite this, it managed to grow its sales by 25% year-over-year to $1.277 billion.
At the same time, GameStop's operating loss narrowed to $21.6 million from $98.8 million a year ago. Thanks to a once-in-a-lifetime short squeeze, the company was able to offer additional equity to pay back all its debt and start afresh. It currently has more than $700 million in cash and investments on its balance sheet.
The bad news
After the earnings release, GameStop shares fell by as much as 27% in a single trading session. In addition, the company announced it would issue up to five million additional shares over a period of time, representing a dilution of up to 7% to its 70 million shares outstanding.
That aside, there's the major risk of lawsuits against those involved in the coordinated "pump and dump" activities of the WSB community. Reddit user profiles of these traders are pretty much public. In fact, lawsuits have already been filed against prominent members of the community for allegedly promoting GameStop while the stock was at "artificially high levels".
On June 9, the SEC announced it was probing GameStop concerning recent trading activities. While the investigation is still in its infancy, WSB members are growing increasingly concerned about legal and privacy issues from the fallout. The agency could potentially subpoena popular platforms like Reddit to access personal information/identities of members regarding their roles in the run-up. I believe this rapidly spreading fear, especially among those who are "holding-on-for-dear-life" (HODLers), is responsible for the sell-off.
The same community that propped up GameStop's stock in a greed-fueled frenzy is equally capable of sending the shares crashing if fear takes center stage. While the company is generating solid growth, the company has a negative free cash flow of about $33.5 million per quarter, including a net cash outflow of nearly $19 million in operating activites. It's a noticeable improvement from $55.9 million negative FCF last year -- but still isn't good news yet. GameStop sold investors on the dream of a turnaround into an e-commerce giant and now has to live up to its reputation.
There is a lot of uncertainty as to how profitable the new GameStop could be. Maybe its net margins will improve to 5% to 10%; perhaps it will hover around 0%, perhaps it will keep running at a loss for quite some time. After all, its gross margins actually fell 1.8 percentage points to 25.9% in Q1. Until the company can prove its new business model is working, it's probably better to look at retailers with both revenue growth and solid profitability instead.