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Palantir becomes an unlikely darling of the GameStop crowd

FILE PHOTO: People walk by a banner featuring the logo of Palantir Technologies (PLTR) at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on the day of their initial public offering (IPO) in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., September 30, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo (REUTERS)
FILE PHOTO: People walk by a banner featuring the logo of Palantir Technologies (PLTR) at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on the day of their initial public offering (IPO) in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., September 30, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo (REUTERS)
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  • Quarterly results and a lock-up expiration hit shares of the richly valued software maker, but it is finding support in online forums

Even a powerful crystal ball couldn’t have foreseen this.

On Thursday, as the GameStop saga moved officially into the halls of Congress, the crowd that has been favoring the videogame retailer turned its eye to Palantir Technologies—a Denver-based software company named for such a magical element in the “Lord of the Rings" saga. Palantir spent the day as a top trending stock on Reddit’s WallStreetBets forum—coming in second only to GameStop—according to TopStonks.com.

The two have little in common. Until relatively recently, GameStop was one of the most beaten-down stocks on Wall Street, due to widespread belief that its days were numbered. Palantir by contrast has been the hottest in a batch of popular software companies that went public last year. By the end of last week, Palantir’s share price was up 340% from the reference price on its direct listing on Sept. 30 and 236% above the closing price of its first trading day, showing that most of its gains didn’t come from the infamous first-day pop. Snowflake and C3.ai—both of whose share prices more than doubled on their first trading day—have picked up an additional 18% and 66%, respectively, from their first-day close.

Then came Palantir’s fourth-quarter results Monday morning, which investors found disappointing mostly due to a forecast implying a significant deceleration in revenue growth later this year. That took nearly 13% off the stock that day. Another big drop came Thursday, as more than 383 million of the company’s shares were freed from a post-IPO lockup provision. By midday, trading volume on Palantir was more than triple the stock’s daily average since the start of the year, according to FactSet data.

The selloff seems to have signaled a buying opportunity to online punters. Unlike GameStop, Palantir hasn’t been a big target of short sellers. But it does bring a whiff of controversy due to its national-security work, which in turn has led the company to depict itself as a Silicon Valley outcast. It also brings a loose association with Elon Musk—patron saint of the Reddit crowd—given that Palantir was co-founded by his former business partner Peter Thiel.

That may garner support from individual investors for the stock as far more shares hit the market. But unlike GameStop, Palantir wasn’t carrying a rock-bottom valuation. Rather, the stock was trading at nearly 40 times projected sales before the recent results. That put Palantir into the upper echelon of cloud software names despite the fact that more than half the company’s revenue comes from the government.

Palantir is working to grow its nongovernment business; only 8% of the Fortune 100 are current customers. But Tyler Radke of Citi noted Monday that the company’s results and forecast “demonstrate that this opportunity may not be imminent." And the shares are still trading around 30 times forward sales even with this week’s losses. As stonks go, this one isn’t a bargain.

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