(Veteran tech columnist Jon D. Markman publishes Strategic Advantage, a lively guide to investing in the digital transformation of business and society. Click here for a trial.)
That’s not the popular perception. Stories are popping up all over that rampant speculation and shift to smaller traders is reminiscent of the internet stock market bubble two decades ago. We all know how that ended.
Investors should see the positives. This is the beginning of a wave of new investors.
Some would beg to differ. Melvin Capital suffered a 50% loss betting against GameStop shares. The firm saw its capital base decline from about $12 billion to only $8 billion since January, and that is after a $2.75 billion infusion. The Wall Street Journal reported that Citadel and Point 72, a pair of hedge funds run by super investors Ken Griffin and Steven A. Cohen, were behind the new investment.
Monied elites being bested by hordes of smaller investors at WallStreetBets, a Reddit subgroup, is a good storyline. In the current era of hyperbole and faux populism, everything gets simplified to us versus them. If small guys are winning it has to be a matter of good vanquishing evil.
While the mob at WallStreetBets is certainly disruptive, virtue is not an underlying trait. These investors didn’t discover hidden value in failing businesses like GameStop. They believe they have found a loophole in the game and they are skewering the elites. There is some truth to that, for now.
The only problem is we all know how this is going to end: One day financial managers at GameStop will announce a giant share offering. They will use the new shares to erase debt obligations or maybe even consider investing in new businesses. The initial reaction may even be positive. Then online traders realize the new shares are antithetical to the scarcity that has been pushing up prices.
At that moment the online mob will realize they own a failing, mall-based game disc retailer. Alone none of those descriptors are positive. Together they are devastating.
The WallSreetBets brigade will start selling, all at the same time. GameStop stock will be halted to correct the order imbalances. Shares will open substantially lower. The stock, once so dear, will become abundant. Out of the money call options will collapse.
GameStop speculators will get slaughtered. WallStreetBets will become the punchline of anecdotes about fools and their money.
There is a silver lining, though, so to speak. The glory of young people is their fearlessness. It’s the reason they make the best racecar drivers. They’re not going away now that they have a taste of the financial benefits of the capital markets.
And to be fair young investors have gotten a lot right since the last recession.
They were early into Tesla ( (TSLA) - Get Report) and green energy investments in general. They understood bitcoin when the graybeards like Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger of Berkshire Hathaway ( (BRK.A) - Get Report) laughed out loud about the investment potential of cryptocurrency.
Yes, the GameStop short squeeze is dumb. Betting on brick and mortar video game retailing could not be further away from where the world is headed. However investors writ large should take comfort that legions of newer investors are showing interest in the capital markets.
Their thirst for equities, and the new money they bring to financial assets, will eventually lift all boats. That’s a big positive.
Then there is the analogy to the internet boom and day traders of the late 1990s. Again, in fairness that movement was more about Wall Street than Main street. It was fostered by fledging online brokerage firms peddling the false premise their new online tools gave the little guy an edge over slow-footed professionals.
It was never true. And yet that speculative bubble lasted for years, not days.
The bottom line is investors should not worry about the GameStop saga. They should take comfort in the idea more money is coming into the market.
Use the current weakness to buy your favorite growth stocks such as Cadence Design Systems (CDNS), Netflix ( (NFLX) - Get Report), Amazon.com ( (AMZN) - Get Report), Spotify ( (SPOT) - Get Report), Intercontinental Exchange ( (ICE) - Get Report) and Microsoft ( (MSFT) - Get Report).