December 15, 2021

Adventures in CEO Trolling: Meme Stock Bartender Gets Citadel’s Goat

When it comes to meme stock apes’ enemies list, you can probably put Citadel Securities alongside hedge fund short sellers right at the very top.  Earlier this year, retail investors sued Citadel & Robinhood, alleging that they colluded to prevent a short squeeze at AMC & GameStop. That lawsuit was dismissed last month, but not before one meme stock investor – a California bartender who made hundreds of thousands of dollars on meme stocks – really managed to get under the skin of Citadel’s CEO.

This Institutional Investor article tells the story of Katherine Larsen, a meme stock investor & bartender from Oceanside, CA. Despite turning a $120K investment into more than $500K, Larsen’s experience in the meme stock game left her suspicious of Wall Street trading practices.  While Larsen wasn’t a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Citadel, the article says that she became an extremely enthusiastic cheerleader, whose activities included running a digital ad in Times Square asking “Do you believe #Ken Griffin lied?”  Griffin, who is Citadel’s CEO, didn’t take kindly to Larsen’s campaign:

Larsen is not a party to the lawsuit, but she has taken up its cause. She has hired firms to run digital billboards and banners lambasting Citadel and its billionaire founder in the streets — and skies — of New York and elsewhere. Griffin’s lawyers have sent dozens of cease and desist letters. Two days after running the Times Square ad, Larsen, known on Twitter as Kat Stryker or @katstryker111, tweeted out one of those letters, which targeted an advertising firm she’d used. The letter claims an “online mob” led by Larsen was “disseminating unfounded conspiracy theories and debunked narratives” about Citadel Securities.

“[Larsen] has published a series of tweets containing pictures of these ads, which contained demonstrably false and defamatory statements about Mr. Griffin — including the inflammatory and outrageous claim that he perjured himself by lying under oath,” it continues.

That comment about falsely accusing Griffin of “lying under oath” refers to written testimony that he provided to Congress last February, in which he denied that Citadel played a rule in Robinhood’s decision to limit trading in certain meme stocks.  Interestingly, the letters were not sent to Larsen, but to more than 25 firms that offer mobile billboard ads.

There’s no way that a CEO looks good letting a retail investor get so far under his skin that he decides to “release the hounds.” But I wonder if Ken Griffin’s situation isn’t a preview of what may be in store for a lot of meme stock CEOs? It seems to me that the same kind of populist rage that fuels campaigns like Ms. Larsen’s can easily be turned against CEOs who don’t deliver ever higher stock prices to the retail investors that they courted so assiduously.  By the way, meme stocks are crashing, so we may not have to wait too long to see if my guess is right.

John Jenkins