January is almost in the rear view mirror and it has already been a strange year. I figured it was about time for me to grab some smaller items from the month and do a Friday bullet points post. Obviously, GameStop was the top item for me. But, after that, everything else sort of faded into insignificance.
- The Revenge of GameStop
A year ago, in my predictions for 2020, I said that GameStop was headed for bankruptcy. That seemed like a gimme prediction given the company’s situation. But then came the pandemic and we all needed video games and the company revived.
Still, things were not looking great for storefront video game sales. The company’s stock price (ticker: GME) was around $4.00 a share a year ago and had buoyed up close to $20 thanks to holiday sales. And then, earlier this week it was past $450 a share.
Melvin Capital Management (MCM) decided to short the stock… basically a bet that the price would go down… when it was sitting in the high teens, which the Reddit group Wall Street Bets decided to go all in the other way, driving the price up to punish MCM, costing them a lot of money as they had to cover their position.
As if many were not convinced already that the stock market has simply become a casino for the wealthy, Robinhood, E*Trade, and TD Ameritrade, all of which cater to small investors, stopped allowing their users to trade GameStop (along with AMC, BlackBerry, Nokia, and a few others which was also seeing unexpected movement). Robinhood denied it was a political move, claiming problems with margin exposure and reconciliation, and they are kind of a dicey edge case in the market, being already under investigation by the SEC and some states.
But TD Ameritrade E*Trade are not. They’re really in the Wall Street club first, and no doubt this move was to defend the extremely wealthy… which includes themselves… as much as anything. The casino gets upset if the suckers start costing them too much money and start changing the rules. And there have already been calls for the SEC to control this sort of outsider behavior so that the peasants can’t rise up again. Populist politicians on both sides of the divide are already looking to make hay out of this and there may be congressional hearings… because political donations from Wall Street are all important.
As a rule, small investors are only safe… or not at complete risk… investing in index funds, usually through their 401k retirement program, because Wall Street can charge a recurring maintenance fee and then use the money to prop up the stocks that benefit them the most. The little guy is allowed to benefit, but only if Wall Street can make its money first.
And people may be cheering that MCM lost a bunch of money on this, but other big firms either sold off or got in with their shorts when the price was high and made money on the backs of the Redditors. Meanwhile, individuals who saw GME prices taking off and jumped in later and who didn’t sell before the dive will lose out. As always, Wall Street wins in the end and the small investors mostly lose.
In the end, none of this helps GameStop the company even one iota. (Though I wouldn’t be surprised to find some senior execs and board members sold off part of their positions.) The stock price only matters when the company offers new shares to the public. This was all people trading shares the company had already sold, so the price… $4.00 or $400… doesn’t mean much to their daily operations. The company is still in trouble. This is all people trying to make money from nothing but perception… it is straight up gambling.
This sort of thing happens every so often. The NPR podcast Planet Money did a story earlier in the year about Hertz Car Rentals when declared bankruptcy earlier this year… due to the fact that they had no cash reserves to speak of because they have spending all their money on stock buy backs which are what most benefit the CEO, board of directors, and Wall Street in the short term, so were completely unprepared for the pandemic downturn… and how their stock suddenly shot up because people were playing the market and wanted to make a quick buck. The GameStop thing was only news because Wall Street lost control of the situation for a brief moment.
And yes, I am a bit cynical about Wall Street after watching them wreck the economy with sub-prime mortgages fifteen years back only to pay no price and get handed billions of dollars in quantitative easing so they could pay themselves bonuses while many suffered.
After the great depression of the 30s a lot of regulations were put in place to keep a titanic event like that from happening again. For a brief time in history the stock market was what my finance professor described back in college, a way for company to raise money in order to expand or invest in the business. That has long since been chipped away and we’re not so far from the days of Joseph Kennedy bilking small time investors.
Anyway, this seemed like something worth noting, even if it is only tangentially gaming related. I’ll be interested to see where things stand in a year when I review this post.
For those interested in more details about GameStop:
- Ars Technica – The complete moron’s guide to GameStop’s stock roller coaster
- Ars Technica – Gaming the system: How GameStop stock surged 1,500% in nine months
- CNET – Robinhood, TD Ameritrade restrict trading of GameStop, AMC stock
- Polygon – The fallout from GameStop’s wild Wednesday has been ugly
- Twitter Thread – How Robinhood helps Wall Street in the end
- I, Cringley – Get Ready for More GameStops