When shares of K-pop agency Big Hit Entertainment Co. started paring gains on their trading debut, devotees of the world-famous BTS band it manages rushed online to show their support.

“I bought Big Hit shares and will keep buying one share after another,” a fan displaying a BTS member as profile photo tweeted on Thursday. “I’ll buy a share whenever news media shakes things up and hold them until I die. Media keeps talking about losses, but they know nothing.”

The tweet, which got more than 550 likes, has prompted similar responses from fellow fans, some of whom also claim to have bought shares. Another devotee, whose profile photo is also that of a BTS member, wrote, “I bought one share and feel great even though the price dropped. Let’s have a shareholder meeting.”

In the music industry, fans are everything. But when it comes to K-pop, that adage holds more true than ever. They’re experts at mobilizing, especially online, to help their idols get more streaming or YouTube views, social media mentions and music sales. When BTS and Big Hit gave away $1 million to support the Black Lives Matter campaign in June, their fans — known as the Army — started a fundraising push to match the donation with the Twitter hashtag #MatchAMillion, raising more than $817,000 in just 24 hours.

It’s thanks to them that the industry has been able to survive the coronavirus pandemic, even with concerts and live events being scrapped. While the combined album sales of Universal Music Group Inc., Sony Corp. and Warner Music Group Corp. dropped 23% in the first six months of the year, they surged 46% for the K-pop sector, according to a research report this month by Kihoon Lee, an analyst at Hana Financial Investment Co. in Seoul.

“After K-Pop secured global popularity, its fan base is now spending money on buying albums,” Lee noted. “Only K-pop is growing in the global industry and such growth won’t suddenly come to an end.”

Whether the devotees will become avid supporters in the equity market too remains to be seen — so far there’s little evidence that they’re buying more than a handful of shares. Big Hit slipped 5.7% Monday, adding to Friday’s 22% drop, following a 91% jump on its Thursday debut. But what’s for sure is that retail trading has surged this year as COVID-19 kept people home.

In Korea, mom-and-pop investors are using massive leverage to pour record borrowed money into the nation’s $1.6 trillion equity market, including millennials seeking a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity amid high unemployment and surging housing prices. The nation’s ban on short selling — Korea is the world’s biggest major market with such a restriction — is only boosting their confidence. Individual investors have taken over from institutional ones to account for 70% of daily trading value.

Of course, all that doesn’t come without risk, and K-pop stocks have proved particularly volatile as the popularity of artists fades. SM Entertainment Co., Korea’s oldest agency, rose more than 2,300% in the three years to its 2012 peak thanks to bands like TVXQ and Girls’ Generation, but it’s fallen 55% since. YG Entertainment Inc., known for Psy’s “Gangnam Style” hit song never went back to its high eight years ago, when the Korean rapper’s tune went viral globally.

Bang Si-hyuk (center), founder of Big Hit Entertainment, poses for a photograph with other executives during the company's initial public offering ceremony at the Korea Exchange in Seoul on Oct. 15.  | POOL / VIA REUTERS
Bang Si-hyuk (center), founder of Big Hit Entertainment, poses for a photograph with other executives during the company’s initial public offering ceremony at the Korea Exchange in Seoul on Oct. 15. | POOL / VIA REUTERS

A sex scandal surrounding a member of the Big Bang boy band managed by YG was another challenge to the industry last year, and the requirement for male citizens in Korea to serve in the military is an ongoing concern for bands like BTS.

Governance has also been an issue as the founders are usually the largest owners of K-pop agencies — Big Hit’s Bang Si-hyuk is now worth $2.2 billion, while those of YG, SM and JYP Entertainment Corp. are multimillionaires. Last year, KB Asset Management asked SM for plans to improve corporate governance and dividends.

Then there are the political disputes between China and Korea, which have been another hit to K-pop shares. Since 2016, Korea’s biggest trading partner has restricted the appearance of its celebrities on television and commercials in an apparent retaliation to the U.S.-led missile shield that China opposed. More recently, BTS came under criticism in China after one of its members mentioned in a video the U.S.-South Korea relations during the Korean war, bringing accusations on social media that he neglected to highlight China’s own part in the conflict.

Still, entertainment stocks have been investor darlings lately. Day traders have bought net 167 billion won ($146 million) of SM, YG and JYP shares this year, while local institutional investors have sold 209 billion won and foreigners have invested just 37 billion won, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

For those who bought into the Big Hit initial public offering, the first hiccup may come next month, when 30% of the institutional investors will be able to sell shares after their lock-up period expires. That led to a 10% stock plunge for a previous popular Korean listing, SK Biopharmaceuticals Co.

But that’s not a concern for the Army.

“We don’t fall down that easy,” a fan wrote on Twitter. “We won’t let Big Hit collapse.”

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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