What happened

Meme stocks sold off en masse today, despite the broad market's shallow gains. Rivian Automotive (RIVN 6.26%) and AMC Entertainment (AMC 0.23%) ended the day down 4.2% and 1%, respectively, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence, while shares of GameStop (GME 1.26%) and Roblox (RBLX -0.41%) fell 2.6% and 4.3%. The pullbacks defied the slightly bullish 0.40% pace set Monday by the S&P 500, reminding investors that highly storied stocks are unpredictable and can dish out sharp sell-offs when they stumble.

So what

If you're seeking a specific headline to explain why recently rekindled meme stocks like GameStop and AMC are suddenly struggling again, don't bother. Most of the tickers of this ilk turned tail as interest in this sort of speculative trading again shifted without warning.

The sharp change in dynamic is reminiscent of actions seen in 2020 and 2021, when stuck-at-home consumers became first-time investors, turning to the stock market for entertainment. Many helped drive popular meme stocks higher, though once those rallies ran out of buyers -- and buyers ran out of reasons to continue buying -- most of those meme stocks suffered significant sudden sell-offs.

This time, the mania never really got going in earnest. As The Wall Street Journal reporter Caitlin McCabe's headline notes, "Meme-Stock Investors Are Back!" The rest of the headline qualifies the claim, however... "Sort of, anyway." The Journal's McCabe warns would-be investors "don't expect the frenzy of 2021."

That caveat seems to have given some investors pause.

If anyone is to be credited (or blamed) for Monday's pullbacks, it's arguably Steve Sosnick, Interactive Brokers' chief strategist. In an interview with Yahoo Finance's Ines Ferre, Sosnick explains, "The initial meme stock craze you had people coming in who never invested before putting money into these stocks and investing. Now it seems to be the same cast of characters chasing the same list of names with a couple of new exceptions every so often." Sosnick cautions investors, "Meme stock trading works great if you're early... [but] works terrible if you're late."

With Roblox, Rivian, GameStop, and AMC stock up between 34% and 106% since June's lows, buyers may fear they're too late, remembering how unexpected previous meme stock sell-offs were.

Now what

Be careful of casting too much blame on Sosnick or McCabe, or really anything or anyone else. Sometimes stocks take on a life of their own, particularly meme stocks, which regularly attract novice investors hoping for big, quick gains. Rivian, AMC, and the rest likely could have fallen with or without the nudge from Sosnick and regardless of the overall market's action.

And there's the rub. Meme stocks are anything but typical. Their action is largely rooted in capitalizing on the rhetoric surrounding them and investors' ever-changing perceptions. Fundamentals aren't much of a factor, making them especially difficult to handicap. Trading them is largely a matter of figuring out how the trading crowd will feel about them in the foreseeable future.

That doesn't preclude bullishness, even after today's exaggerated weakness. All four eme stocks could soar again tomorrow as they did back in June. Never say never.

Recent commentary regarding meme stocks is right about something: Each round of meme stock mania seems to be less potent than the previous. The trading crowd seems to be figuring out that most of these tickers are too unpredictable to treat like long-term holdings.