A short squeeze frenzy driven by a new generation of gamers captured financial headlines in recent weeks, centered on a struggling strip mall video game store called GameStop. The Internet and a year off in this shut down to study up have given a younger generation of investors the tools to compete in the market. Gerald Celente calls it the “Youth Revolution.” A group of New York Young Republicans who protested in the snow on January 31 called it “Re-occupy Wall Street.” Others have called it Occupy Wall Street 2.0. The populist uprising against Wall Street goes back farther, however, than to the 2010 Occupy movement. In the late 19th century, the country was suffering from a depression nearly as severe as the Great Depression of the 1930s.
This past week a video game company in trouble, Gamestop, became the center of media attention. Day traders had driven up the company’s stock price by thousands of percent in just one day. The mainstream media narrative was the ‘small guy’ investor challenged the big boys of finance who had bet Gamestop stock price would contract, not rise sharply. The little investor, so the story goes, initially won big but Gamestop’s stock price escalation was stopped in its tracks by coordinated forces of Wall St., as trading was abruptly halted later in the day in the midst of the run-up. But that narrative, that media spin, has it wrong. The real meaning of what has happened is quite different.
The New York Stock Exchange suffered a poor day on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average sinking by more than 600 points. However, for a select few companies, stock values have gone through the roof. It was thanks, in large part, to a group of amateur stock traders with a vendetta against veteran corporate insider short-sellers betting on a company’s failure, with the video game store GameStop taking center stage. Before the drama was over, the company’s value had jumped by more than 1,700%, an investment firm had lost billions, and some small-time investors who gambled it all were able to afford some of life’s costlier necessities with their windfall.
A remarkable series of events culminated in at least one major Wall Street hedge fund on the verge of insolvency and widespread anxiety and even panic from the titans of the financial system. It was all initiated on a sub-group of Reddit known for its heterodox interest in stock markets, video games, and vaguely populist politics. Purposely targeting the stock of a company that had long been written off by Wall Street and which short sellers had decided to ravage — the video game retailer GameStop — these small investors, many apparently working class or debt-ridden, banded together to drive up the stock price of that company into the stratosphere, abruptly leaving the hedge fund short-sellers with billions of dollars in losses.