Rocket Stock Is the New Meme Trade. Move Over, GameStop.
Rocket, the parent of Quicken Loans, has surged 28% this week.
Rocket, the parent of Quicken Loans, has surged 28% this week.
The individual investors that powered GameStop Corp.’s meteoric rise have a new target: Rocket Cos., the parent company of Quicken Loans.
Shares of the mortgage lender surged 28% since the end of last week. Nearly 377 million shares traded hands on Tuesday alone, more than a 10-fold increase from the previous day. After surging 71% on Tuesday, the stock lost some steam on Wednesday, falling 33%, or $13.59, to $28.01.
Like GameStop, Rocket is heavily shorted. As of this week, 46% of its shares available for trading were being shorted by investors betting the price would fall, according to S3 Partners, a data-analytics firm. That was up from about 33% in late January and 17% in mid-September, according to FactSet.
Trading of Rocket shares was halted several times this week because of its volatility.
Individual investors on WallStreetBets, the Reddit community that gave birth to GameStop’s rise, have been encouraging each other to buy the stock in recent days and sharing evidence of their own massive gains. They have relished in the company’s name——Rocket——an apt one for their goal of higher prices.
“The $RKT is fueled and ready for liftoff,” one user wrote early this week.
The company stock symbol, RKT, was mentioned in nearly 16,000 Reddit comments on Tuesday, according to data from TopStonks.com, a website that tracks equities mentioned on Reddit. That is up from just over 6,000 on Monday and less than 1,000 on most days last week.
Rocket announced last week it would pay a one-time dividend of $1.11 per share later this month, citing its “highly profitable and capital light business model.” Some investors saw the move as a way to fend off short sellers. Short sellers are obliged to pay any dividends to the broker they borrowed shares from.
The company’s excess capital at the end of the fourth quarter made the dividend possible, Rocket CEO Jay Farner said at a conference Wednesday morning.
“We were pretty proud to be able to offer that to our shareholders,” Mr Farner said. “We think more of dividends as special dividends because we want that flexibility to make the right investment for the long-term growth of the organisation.”
Rocket has other upsides. Rising mortgage rates are boosting earning potential for mortgage lenders just as the crucial spring home-selling season kicks off. The average rate on the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 2.97% recently, its highest level since August.
Detroit-based Rocket is the largest mortgage lender in the U.S., according to research firm Inside Mortgage Finance. Its $323 billion in home loans in 2020 easily surpassed the $221 billion originated by its closest competitor, Wells Fargo & Co. Its large size and strong brand—it ran two Super Bowl commercials—set it apart from other non-bank lenders.
Before Rocket’s blastoff, shares of nonbank mortgage lenders had done little to impress investors in recent months. Some of the lenders that listed their shares on the public market in recent months significantly downsized their offerings. Some never made it to market because of tepid investor interest.
Shares of Rocket hadn’t strayed too far from their listing price of $18 in the seven months since the company’s IPO. The stock soared to more than $31 in its first month but quickly returned to near $20.
The first sign of liftoff came late last week, when Rocket reported impressive fourth-quarter results. Shares rose almost 10% on Friday. The news of a sizable dividend prompted Rocket’s initial jump in stock price, said KBW analyst Bose George.
“The initial move made some sense, but since then, fundamentals haven’t been driving it,” Mr George said. “It’s other factors that we have a harder time assessing.”
Shortly before its public-market debut last summer, Rocket announced an ambitious expansion target: cornering 25% of the mortgage market over the next decade. Its market share currently stands at about a third of that, according to Inside Mortgage Finance.
Rocket said last week that its mortgage originations more than doubled in 2020. It said it expects continued high origination levels despite weakening margins.
The amount lenders earn when they sell each loan has started to drop. Quicken’s gain-on-sale margin was 4.41% in the fourth quarter, down from the third quarter but well above the 3.41% it recorded a year earlier. It expects its first-quarter margin to be between 3.6% and 3.9%.
Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert helped found Quicken Loans in the 1980s and still holds the majority of its shares.
Ali Habhab has watched the stock’s recent ride with interest but doesn’t plan to sell his shares any time soon. Mr. Habhab, who is 25 years old, instead hopes his returns will bring him closer to his goal of retiring at 40. He bought 1,000 shares in Rocket shortly after the company’s IPO in August.
Mr. Habhab, who works in automotive manufacturing, said he was familiar with Quicken Loans long before parent company Rocket decided to go public. Mr. Habhab lives in Detroit, where Rocket is based, and has friends who started careers at the company or one of its subsidiaries.
“With all that factored in, it was a no-brainer to put some of my money where it belongs and where it will grow,” Mr Habhab said.
Another major nonbank mortgage lender, UWM Holdings Corp. is up 27% so far this week.
Following the devastation of recent flooding, experts are urging government intervention to drive the cessation of building in areas at risk.
Private club memberships and luxury cars are some of freebies on the table.
When Ryan Wolitzer was looking to buy an apartment in Miami Beach late last year, several beachfront properties caught his eye. All were two-bedroom homes in high-end buildings with amenities aplenty and featured glass walls, high ceilings and an abundance of natural light. But only The Continuum, in the city’s South of Fifth district, came with a gift: a membership to Residence Yacht Club, a private club that offers excursions on luxury yachts ranging from a day in south Florida to a month around the Caribbean. Residents receive heavily discounted charters on upscale boats that have premier finishes and are stocked with top shelf spirits and wine. Mr. Wolitzer, 25, who works for a sports agency, was sold.
“The access to high-end yachts swayed my decision to buy at The Continuum and is an incentive that I take full advantage of,” Mr. Wolitzer said. “It’s huge, especially in my business when I am dealing with high-profile sports players, to be able to give them access to these incredible boats where they experience great service. I know that they’ll be well taken care of.”
Freebies and perks for homeowners such as a private club membership are a mainstay in the world of luxury real estate and intended to entice prospective buyers to sign on the dotted line.
According to Jonathan Miller, the president and chief executive of the real estate appraisal and consulting firm Miller Samuel, they’re primarily a domestic phenomenon.
In the U.S. residential real estate market, gifts are offered by both developers who want to move apartments in their swanky buildings and individuals selling their homes. They range from modest to over-the-top, Mr. Miller said, and are more prevalent when the market is soft.
“When sales lag, freebies increase in a bid to incentivize buyers,” he said. “These days, sales are slowing, and inventory is rising after two years of being the opposite, which suggests that we may see more of them going forward.”
Many of these extras are especially present in South Florida, Mr. Miller said, where the market is normalizing after the unprecedented boom it saw during the pandemic. “The frenzy in South Florida was intense compared with the rest of the country because it became a place where people wanted to live full time,” he said. “Now that the numbers are inching toward pre-pandemic levels, freebies could push wavering buyers over the finish line.”
Kelly Killoren Bensimon, a real estate salesperson for Douglas Elliman in Miami and New York, said that the gifts that she has encountered in her business include everything from yacht access and use of a summer house to magnums of pricey wine. “One person I know of who was selling a US$5 million house in the Hamptons even threw in a free Mercedes 280SL,” she said. “They didn’t want to lower the price but were happy to sweeten the deal.”
A car, an Aston Martin to be exact, is also a lure at Aston Martin Residences in Miami’s Biscayne Bay. Buyers who bought one of the building’s 01 line apartments—a collection of 47 ocean-facing residences ranging in size from 325 to 362sqm and US$8.3 million to US$9 million in price—had their choice of the DBX Miami Riverwalk Special Edition or the DB11 Miami Riverwalk Special Edition. The DBX is Aston Martin’s first SUV and retails for around US$200,000. It may have helped propel sales given that all the apartments are sold out.
The US$59 million triplex penthouse, meanwhile, is still up for grabs, and the buyer will receive a US$3.2 million Aston Martin Vulcan track-only sports car, one of only 24 ever made.
“We want to give homeowners the chance to live the full Aston Martin lifestyle, and owning a beautiful Aston Martin is definitely a highlight of that,” said Alejandro Aljanti, the chief marketing officer for G&G Business Developments, the building’s developer. “We wanted to include the cars as part of the package for our more exclusive units.”
The US$800,000 furniture budget for buyers of the North Tower condominiums at The Estates at Acqualina in Sunny Isles, Florida, is another recent head-turning perk. The 94 residences sold out last year, according to president of sales Michael Goldstein, and had a starting price of US$6.3 million. “You can pick the furniture ahead of time, and when buyers move in later this year, all they’ll need is a toothbrush,” he said.
Then there’s the US$2 million art collection that was included in the sale of the penthouse residence at the Four Seasons Residences in Miami’s Brickell neighbourhood. The property recently sold for $15.9 million and spans 817sqm feet. Designed by the renowned firm ODP Architects, it features contemporary paintings and sculpture pieces from notable names such as the American conceptual artist Bill Beckley and the sculptor Tom Brewitz.
But it’s hard to top the millions of dollars of extras that were attached to the asking price in 2019 of the US$85 million 1393sqm duplex at the Atelier, in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood. The list included two Rolls-Royce Phantoms, a Lamborghini Aventador, a US$1 million yacht with five years of docking fees, a summer stay at a Hamptons mansion, weekly dinners for two at lavish French restaurant Daniel and a live-in butler and private chef for a year. And the most outrageous of all: a flight for two to space.
It turned out that the so-called duplex was actually a collection of several apartments and a listing that went unsold. It did, however, generate plenty of buzz among the press and in real estate circles and was a marketing success, according to Mr. Miller.
“A listing like this that almost seems unbelievable with all the gifts will get plenty of eyeballs but is unlikely to push sales,” he said. “Empirically, it’s not an effective tactic.”
On the other hand, Mr. Miller said that more reasonable but still generous freebies, such as the membership to a yacht club, have the potential to push undecided buyers to go for the sale. “A nice but not too lavish gift won’t be the singular thing toward their decision but can be a big factor,” he said. “It’s a feel-good incentive that buyers think they’re getting without an extra cost.”
Examples of these bonuses include a membership to the 1 Hotel South Beach private beach club that buyers receive with the purchase of a residence at Baccarat Residences Brickell, or the one-year membership to the Grand Bay Beach Club in Key Biscayne for those who spring for a home at Casa Bella Residences by B&B Italia, located in downtown Miami and a residential project from the namesake renowned Italian furniture brand. The price of a membership at the Grand Bay Beach Club is usually a US$19,500 initiation fee and US$415 in monthly dues.
Still enticing but less expensive perks include the two-hour cruise around New York on a wooden Hemmingway boat, valued at US$1,900, for buyers at Quay Tower, at Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City. The building’s developer, Robert Levine, said that he started offering the boat trip in July to help sell the remaining units. “We’re close to 70% sold, but, of course, I want everything to go,” he said.
There’s also the US$1,635 Avalon throw blanket from Hermes for those who close on a unit at Ten30 South Beach, a 33-unit boutique condominium; in Manhattan’s Financial District, a custom piece of art from the acclaimed artist James Perkins is gifted to buyers at Jolie, a 42-story building on Greenwich Street. Perkins said the value of the piece depends on the home purchase price, but the minimum is US$4,000. “The higher end homes get a more sizable work,” he said.
When gifts are part of a total real estate package, the sale can become emotional and personal, according to Chad Carroll, a real estate agent with Compass in South Florida and the founder of The Carroll Group. “If the freebie appeals to the buyer, the transaction takes on a different dynamic,” he said. “A gift becomes the kicker that they love the idea of having.”
Speaking from his own experience, Mr. Carroll said that sellers can also have an emotional connection to the exchange. “I was selling my house in Golden Isles last year for US$5.4 million and included my jet ski and paddle boards,” he said. “The buyers were a family with young kids and absolutely loved the water toys.” Mr. Carroll could have held out for a higher bidder, he said, but decided to accept their offer. “I liked them and wanted them to create the same happy memories in the home that I did,” he said.
The family moved in a few months later.