The AMC Empire 25 theater reopens after COVID-19 closures, Friday, March 5, 2021, in New York.
Last Monday played out as many recent days have for AMC: Shares of the movie theater chain went haywire. They opened at $52.38, an almost 10% jump from their previous close, which itself was nearly 70% higher than a week earlier. Then, pop! By 10 a.m., $58. The stock next lost a little ground—amid a broad decline in equities—but vaulted back to almost $60 by lunchtime, a level 30 or so times greater than what it fetched in January.
It was all much to the delight of Tremayne L. Collins. An active-duty Army officer, Collins, 23, has moonlighted for the past few months as an increasingly popular YouTuber, chronicling the stock’s rise and establishing himself as perhaps the preeminent force driving interest in AMC. “There’s three things contributing to the movement we’ve been seeing,” he says, assuming his now well-rehearsed persona as a youthful market sage. First, “you’ve got the fear of missing out,” he says. Meaning, basically, people are acting like lemmings, following the crowd and buying shares. “Second, you’ve got some gamma squeezing,” a complicated concept related to options raising an equity’s price. “Along with all that, some shorts have started to cover their positions, and it’s ultimately created this monster web of what’s going on with AMC.”
What exactly has happened to AMC is complex, but it boils down to this: The company is experiencing a groundswell campaign to boost its shares, a wave led by a group of extremely amateur online investors, events similar to the ones that unfolded around GameStop last winter. In January, AMC, its business largely shuttered by the pandemic, sported a market valuation of under $1 billion. It’s worth approximately $25 billion today. As ever-volatile stock ended last week a little under $50, it has averaged close to a quarter-million mentions across social media recently, a dramatic swing from only a few thousand daily mentions a year ago, according to data from Meltwater, a maker of social-listening software.
One of Trey Collins’ first YouTube videos devoted to covering AMC back in January.
Collins has emerged as a something like a de facto chieftain within the insurgent AMC investor group. When Fox Business and CNBC recently went looking for someone to speak for the Average Joe horde, they put him on the air. And when AMC chief executive Adam Aron wanted to address this crowd last week, he did so not by speaking with a traditional media outlet, like a Fox Business or a CNBC, but by granting an interview to Collins, a conversation Collins split into two YouTube videos. Since his “Trey’s Trades” YouTube channel launched in December, it has accumulated 330,000 subscribers, a red-hot start for any newcomer on the site, where fame tends to take considerably longer to build than on Instagram and TikTok.
Collins is indicative of the investing set behind the extreme price movement upending the shares of GameStop, AMC and other companies like Wendy’s and BlackBerry–seemingly irrespective of their corporate fundamentals. (To use these investors’ slang, these are meme stocks or, put with crude humor, “stonks.”) Collins has no formal finance education and is not some professional investor stationed behind a Bloomberg terminal. He maintains a day job while living on the web as much as possible. He’s gotten rich, quickly, turning $8,000 in savings last December into roughly $1 million today through trading AMC stock and options. (“I think people appreciate that I’m just a regular guy,” Collins says. “They view it as confirmation you don’t have to have been in the market for five, ten, 15 years to make money.”) His outsized voice and unabashed enthusiasm for AMC amount to flagrant violations of finance’s traditional rules and norms, where retail investors are rarely seen—and certainly not heard—while media members covering or commenting on a company are not also investors in the business.
It does make for compelling YouTube content. “It’s the same psychology as if you’re in a casino, you walk by the roulette table and you see someone throw down $50,000,” says Matt Kohrs, 26, who runs a competing YouTube channel covering AMC. “It’s a crazy bet. There’s no way you’re not going to watch it play out. That’s the attraction to it.” And then maybe, once caught up in the moment, you also throw down some money on black, too.
By rights, Collins shouldn’t have been gambling like this at all. He grew up in Minnesota and had a ROTC scholarship to get through St. John’s University, an hour north of Minneapolis. His father died a year into college, and in summer 2019, Collins found himself living on his own, working as a bartender and server at a Buffalo Wild Wings. “I’d work from 11 in the morning until 11 at night,” he recalls, “and I would have my car in the parking lot of the Wild Wings. I’d crash in the backseat after I got done working, then wake up and do it again.”
At St. John’s, he studied nutrition and ran track and field. “And we got a lot more out of him than we might’ve expected given his high school credentials,” says his university coach, Tim Miles. “He’s a terrific runner. And well, he’s in every way a personality.”
Collins graduated in May 2020 and assumed active duty. After an injury forced him to stop long-distance running, he found himself with more free time. A buddy had already caught the day-trading bug and passed it along to Collins.
“He’s hype all the time. And I like that,” says one AMC investor, who is also a fan of Collins’ YouTube. “It transfers to me—it makes me hyped about it.”
To bone up, “I read some books and watched successful traders on YouTube,” he says. “From September until November, I spent about two to three hours a day studying technical analysis,” examining charts showing short-term stock-price movements—an activity akin to Talmudic scholarship for some traders and little more than tea-leaf reading for other investors.
Collins, thin, sandy-haired, his right arm sheathed in tattoos, had previously tried to achieve YouTube stardom with a channel devoted to running advice. It flopped, never getting more than 400 subscribers. When “Trey’s Trades” started in December, his first few videos touched on a variety of stocks, but when the GameStop mania started to spread to AMC in the spring, Collins switched to vlogging almost exclusively about AMC.
Aside from an active Twitter presence and a few initial videos posted to Reddit investing forums, Collins insists his YouTube growth has been entirely organic, going from 13,500 subscribers at the end of January to over 150,000 three months later. He cultivated a cult-following further by borrowing the cliquey slang from the Reddit board behind the GameStop rally: an amateur investor interested in a meme stock is an “ape,” a reference to the elevated primates in the Planet of the Apes movies, and stock gains are “tendies,” a circular allusion to other relishable items—chicken tenders.
Collins won’t say exactly what he does other than he works 8 to 5 in the Army. (“That’s as much as I’m allowed to say or I can get in trouble.) Somehow he finds time to post several 15- to 20-minute videos per day covering what happened with the stock and offering pointers on the trading chart. Sometimes he also does a multi-hour livestream, too. He sees AMC both as a potential for quick trades and extended plays too, viewing it as a more plausible comeback story than GameStop. (“I believe it’s got a stronger fundamental future. I don’t think the market for movie theaters is going to go anywhere.”) His recording set up is basic: two computer screens and a cheap 4K webcam purchased at BestBuy, set up on the desk at the Oklahoma hotel he’s been lodged at for the past few months.
The barebones video quality doesn’t bother “Trey’s Trades” fans such as Nicolas Davies, a 25-year-old Baptist pastor from Mt. Savage, Maryland. Online investors like Davies say Collins’ videos analyzing—and promoting—AMC are why they’ve bought the stock and stuck with it. They’re equally unbothered by his obvious conflict of interest: trading the shares while heralding them too. “He’s hype all the time. And I like that,” says Davies, who invested a few thousand dollars into the stock when it traded for under $20 a couple weeks ago. “I think it’s important to see somebody being passionate and energetic. It transfers to me—it makes me hyped about it. My wife is probably sick of hearing about AMC at this point. But I’ve dove headfirst into it.”
AMC CEO Adam Aron has embraced the retail investors buoying his stock, speaking directly to them—and even offering a free, in-theater popcorn giveaway for shareholders.
Getty Images for CinemaCon
His most popular videos have been his interview with AMC’s chief executive, Adam Aron, an audience that came together somewhat spontaneously. “I tweeted at him on Twitter, and he reached back out to me on Twitter about a week and a half later. He said he followed my channel because his son watches me on YouTube,” Collins says. A recent appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box went less successfully: The show’s cohost Andrew Ross Sorkin tripped up Collins, and Collins seemed to admit he had overvalued the shares in the past. Collins says he botched an attempt to draw a distinction between the stock’s short-term potential and long-term, fundamental value.
“My plan when the AMC storybook is done being written, which I don’t think it is: continue to educate the new breed of investors in the stock market—the apes,” he says.