The frenzied adoration of South Korean retail traders for everything EV battery-related has sparked a meteoric rally of one cathode producer, making it the world's best-performing stock this year.
Shares of Ecopro Co. comfortably beat all companies in the 2,647 member Bloomberg World Index - delivering returns of 571 per cent this year and more than 200 per cent points over runner-up Kum Yang Co., another Korean company also at the center of the EV craze.
Ecopro was the poster child of the unstoppable retail-buying excitement that caused huge swings in some South Korean stocks this year. A combination of factors - including retail investors' penchant for volatility, bullish calls from popular Youtube influencers, as well as Chinese competitors facing increased scrutiny from the US - all contributed to interest in nation's battery makers and their suppliers.
The company saw its share price skyrocket during the first half of this year, catapulting from 110,000 won at the start of 2023 to more than 10 fold in seven months. Such a wild ride enticed investors to chase quick returns while squeezing out short sellers who placed bearish bets as the company's price-to-earnings ratio shot over 500 in the summer.
Before a recent ban by authorities on short-selling, Ecopro was one of the most shorted stocks in South Korea. The shares traded at 691,000 won in Seoul at 3.19 p.m. local time Thursday, with a market value of about $14 billion. The stock still trades at 96 times its earnings.
The stock's rally in part benefited from expectations for higher EV battery orders earlier this year but its gains continued even when some analysts lowered their outlook on demand. Shares have now dropped almost 50 per cent from their July peak and the stock now has two sell ratings, one hold and no buy recommendation.
Ecopro's rally also created massive wealth gains for its founder Lee Dong-chae, who is imprisoned for insider trading. He and his family saw their fortune swell by about $3.3 billion this year to $3.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Separately, PT Adaro Minerals Indonesia is down 19 per cent this year after being 2022's winner when it posted a 1,595 per cent gain.