GameStop or Game Over?

For as long as memory serves, it seems Wall Street bankers had the upper hand.  High frequency traders front running the average investor, activist taking seats on boards to revamp struggling companies, short sellers suppressing stock prices for profit.  This week Main Street pushed back, with real money and real consequences.  Melvin Capital, a hedge fund run by celebrated stock picker Gabe Plotkin, needed to be bailed out after one of its short trades, GameStop took on catastrophic losses, courtesy of an army of retail investors that drove the price up over 2000% so far this month.

Generally, when a person buys a stock, the goal is for it to go up in price so it can be sold for a profit.  This is typically referred to as being “long” a stock. On the other hand, when an investor “shorts” a stock, the expectation is that the price will go down. A short seller borrows shares of a company, sell at current prices, hoping to rebuy them at lower prices to make a profit.  The risk of these trades is not equal.  A buyer can only risk its original investment if the stock goes to zero, but a short seller can lose an infinite amount if the price rises dramatically.  In this case, short sellers are forced to buy back shares, at higher prices, further exacerbating the buying pressure and ensuing rise in price.  This is called a short squeeze.  Well, GameStop had more than 100% of the shares borrowed (shares were borrowed from borrowers multiple times over) and the squeeze has been epic, with shares rising from $3 to over $300 per share.

Short Squeezes like this are nothing new, but what is new is the way this occurred. “r/WallsStreetBets”, a Reddit forum known for posting ridiculous “YOLO” trade results of risk fueled massive gains AND embarrassing losses, organized a short squeeze on GameStop, forcing a major hedge fund to lose more money than they even had under management due to these uneven risk parameters.  There’s been much discussion over the morality of what took place.  Is this market manipulation?  Why is it any different than a few hedge fund managers getting together over dinner to discuss and align trades to all profit?  Sure, GameStop, a failing video game retailer, is NOT intrinsically worth over $300/share. But isn’t this type of “price discovery”, however ridiculous, what makes free capital markets great?  RobinHood and other trading platforms have taken incredible heat from many, including politicians in Washington after restricting people from buying GameStop stock, among other companies.  Even if the reason behind this was to protect their investors from the risk involved with chasing heat in a bubble, this seems like market manipulation.  After news broke this morning that RobinHood raised additional capital from existing investors, it’s possible they did this to protect themselves.  Capitalism can only function properly if markets are truly free and dictating what can be bought, when is anything but that.

Bubbles, and this herd mentality has been around forever.  Mark Twain’s quote is often cited in finance, “History never repeats itself, but it often does rhyme”, to point out investor cycles of emotions.  We wrote about Kodak and its questionable trading behavior this summer.  In 1999 Yahoo! Finance chat forums popped up to artificially pump and later dump stocks.  So, this is not historically unusual, but maybe due to our 24/7 news cycle, it’s being more publicized and talked about.

It will certainly be worth watching how this unfolds and how regulation changes, or not, to prevent this type of market movement in the future.

Important Disclosure: This email is limited to the dissemination of information pertaining to Withum Wealth Management (“Withum Wealth”) and general economic market conditions. Nothing contained herein should be construed as personalized advice, or an offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities. Past performance is not indicative of future results, and there is no guarantee that the views and opinions expressed in this commentary will come to pass. Withum Wealth is neither a law firm nor an accounting firm, and no portion of this commentary should be construed as legal or tax advice. You are advised to consult with separate legal or tax advisors with respect to any legal or tax advice. Withum Wealth does not make any representations or warranties as to the accuracy, timeliness, suitability, completeness, or relevance of any information prepared by any unaffiliated third party, whether linked to WWM’s web site or blog or incorporated herein, and takes no responsibility for any such content. All such information is provided solely for convenience purposes only and all users thereof should be guided accordingly. Withum Wealth is an investment adviser registered with the SEC. For information pertaining to the registration status of Withum Wealth, please refer to the Investment Adviser Public Disclosure website ( For additional information about Withum Wealth, including fees and services, send for our written disclosure statement as set forth on Form ADV Part 2A.