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ViacomCBS Decline Continues as Reports Trace Large Block Trades to Hedge Fund

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(Image credit: James Smith - archive copy, CC0,


After reports identifying what is believed to be one of the main culprits in the precipitous drop in ViacomCBS and Discovery stock over the past several days, shares of both companies continued to take hits, although less damaging than the beating they’ve taken in the past several days. 

ViacomCBS shares were down as much as 10.8% ($5.23 each) on Monday to $43 per share, while Discovery sank as much as 5% ($2.08 each) to $39.82 per share. ViacomCBS stock was priced at $46.44 each, down 3.6% as of 2:10 p.m. Discovery shares were trading at $42.87 each (up 2%) as of the same time Monday.  

But Monday’s drop was nothing like the storm both stocks weathered last week.

ViacomCBS shares fell more than 50% between March 22 and March 26, from $100.34 per share to $48.23 each, spurred by a huge sell-off of shares by hedge-fund Archegos Capital Management, according to reports. Discovery fell 44% in the same time frame, also due mostly to the Archegos sell-off.

The sell-off reached its height on Friday, March 26, when ViacomCBS and Discovery shares fell 27% each. Prior to that decline, the stocks had slipped 33% and 22.6%, respectively, over the prior three days. 

Archegos was formed by former Tiger-Asia hedge fund founder Bill Hwang, who unbeknownst to most investors had accumulated huge positions in both stocks over the past several months, and appeared to be the main reason the shares have enjoyed one of the biggest runs in the sector. Prior to the March 22 sell-off, ViacomCBS stock had more than doubled since January when it was priced at $36.50 each, and was up more than seven-fold in the past 12 months. Discovery was on a similar tear, rising 152% since January and nearly quadrupling during the 12-month period. 

Things started to unravel on March 22, when ViacomCBS announced a plan to raise $3 billion in new and preferred shares for about $85 each, far below its then-current price of $100.34 per share. That announcement forced Viacom CBS shares down 9% on March 23.

While analysts and investors had attributed the past gains in the stocks to increasingly positive sentiment over streaming video efforts from both companies, a report in The Wall Street Journal traced the rise and fall of both stocks to Hwang and the way he invested in the shares with little detection. 

According to some reports, at one point Archegos controlled more than 10% of ViacomCBS and Discovery shares, many through swaps, which are contracts brokered by investment banks that allow an investor to take on the profits and losses of a portfolio of stocks or other assets for a fee. While the assets are held in street name, they are such that they allow the owner to avoid Securities and Exchange Commission regulations that require that a company that owns 5% or more of another public company’s stock reveal those holdings in filings called 13-D registration statements. 

Archegos invested in several other companies, including tech companies like internet search giant Baidu, spreading those swaps across a wide variety of investment banks like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley. Goldman, Deutsche, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley and UBS also acted as prime brokers to Archegos, processing its trades and lending it cash and securities, the Journal report said. 

When the stocks began to lose value -- Baidu, for example, had dropped about 20% in mid-March -- the banks had to sell some of the shares to help it post more collateral. That included making large block trades, which by Friday March 26, reached the point where the banks decided to seize the stock Archegos had already used as collateral to cover losses, with some banks deciding to sell their holdings as quickly as possible. Adding to the pressure was the decline in the stock from the March 22 ViacomCBS offering, causing some banks to decide to liquidate their positions as quickly as possible.

That appeared evident by the huge jump in the volume of ViacomCBS shares traded on March 26 -- 211.9 million  -- and in Discovery shares -- 104.4 million -- five to 10 times their volume on the previous day. 

CNBC’s David Faber added that some reports pegged the Archegos position in ViacomCBS and Discovery at as much as 15%, going against what he called a prime brokerage rule among Wall Street funds to cap their interests in companies at 10%. 

“You are supposed to say that you will not own more than 10% of any one company period. Apparently he [Hwang] didn’t listen to those rules and didn’t obey those rules,” Faber said on CNBC's Squawk on the Street. “There are various rules as well. The swap market perhaps is more opaque. It’s unknown to the other prime brokers if you don’t disclose it, what your economic position is with others. He [Hwang} very well may not have been obeying rules set by the prime brokers. ” 

Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.