2020 was a rough year. That goes without saying. It was hard to find motivation in writing a blog about Quitting Your Job when so many people were losing their jobs and seeking unemployment assistance. Their jobs quit them. So I watched and waited, trying to find that spark for inspiration to return to the blog-space.
Then came The Big Meme Short.
Because this event is playing out better than any movie that came out in 2020, we’ll take it one step at a time. It will also be partially subjective, because I “took part” so to speak, buying into the market — more for the experience than in any attempt to actually make money. Personally, I believe in investing and do so. I believe in acquiring assets and utilizing dividends (read my post on building a dividend ladder portfolio here). I bought up stocks in April last year and did well. What happened this week was not sane investing and I don’t recommend getting involved (it’s not over as of this writing) and if you do please exercise caution.
That being said: I am not an investing professional or hold any certifications or fancy paperwork that shows I’m a qualified analyst or that you should listen to me. Trade accordingly and consult a financial professional!
Beware the average man the average woman…Charles Bukowski “The Genius of the Crowd”
GameStop had been mentioned in investing circles over the past year, primarily because of Dr. Michael Burry taking a sizable position. Burry, if you didn’t know, was one of the prime movers of The Big Short (played by Christian Bale) and one of the first to bet against housing. As of June 2020, his fund, Scion, owned 4.26% of available GameStop (GME) shares. Fast forward to this past Monday, where Burry’s position of 1.7 million shares rose to $271 million — and that wasn’t even GME’s weekly high.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the internet, subreddit r/wallstreetbets, essentially a stock trading club of retail investors who discuss stock market strategies, was turning into an angry beehive. It’s worth noting that around the time the GME play got going, the subreddit had about 2.2 million subscribers. It is now up to 5.7 million ‘degenerates.’ Having lost large amounts of money in previous market plays to the big guys on Wall Street, the…shall we say, collective…of wallstreetbets came across the perfect target for revenge.
It involved shorts (I’ll try to keep this brief, but some context is needed). Yes, the same as Burry’s The Big Short. A short is simply a bet against a stock or asset. ‘To short’ something is to bet against. That’s the general term which comes from a ‘short selling’ action where you sell a stock short. An investor on the street can do this by borrowing shares from their brokerage, selling them immediately at market price, collecting the money as profit but owing the brokerage the shares.
Example: I short sell 100 shares of Big Company stock at $10/share. I collect $1,000, but I owe my brokerage (Fidelity, E-Trade, Schwab, etc) 100 shares of Big Company. The stock goes to $5/share, I buy 100 shares of Big Company and return them to the brokerage. I sold for $1,000 and bought back for $500, a difference of $500 which I keep as profit. Brokerage gets their shares back, the trade is over.
Shorting can be dangerous. Imagine if I sold Big Company shares at $10/share and it went to $15/share. Now I’m OUT all the profit AND still owe my brokerage the shares. In most cases, if the trade goes against you, the brokerage will demand their shares back (cause they’re losing money on the value increasing, this is called a margin call). They could also have the power to start selling other stocks in your account to buy back the shares you owe them.
Shorting is a common tactic on Wall Street; it’s done by big banks and hedge funds all the time. The ugly part of it is that with so much weight and money behind it, these funds can actually move the price of stocks in the direction they want them to go. Imagine being able to short Big Company stock and short so much of it it drives the price down in your favor (this is because of volume; when sellers outnumber buyers, the price goes down and vice versa).
So back to r/wallstreetbets. What they discovered was that GameStop (GME) was shorted by Wall Street by over 140%. What does that mean? It means GME stock was heavily bet — the number of shares shorted OUTNUMBERED the amount of available shares. And, if you remember from the example above, the shorted shares must be re-bought to close the position. So, ipso facto, there wasn’t enough shares available to close the position. When the trade was due to close on Friday, January 29, 2021 (last trading day of the month), Melvin Capital, and the other funds behind the short, would need to buy shares to close the short.
As anyone who invests knows, the law of supply and demand rules.
Part One: Short Squeeze
I don’t know when the move to buy up GME started exactly. From the stock chart, the first big move was January 13, where volume spiked and the price rose sharply. For the purposes of this post, we’ll start there.
r/wallstreetbets was at a mere 2.2 million followers or so, but had garnered full buy-in from it’s members on the GameStop play. The price started to climb, more joined in. By the end of last week, I was seeing news about GameStop and ‘short squeeze’ in my news feed, but didn’t bother to look into it.
A ‘short squeeze’ occurs when the price of shorted stock suddenly and sharply rises. In order to ‘stop the bleeding’ (e.g., stop taking losses) a trader or hedge fund will begin to buy the stock back to fulfill the short trade. This, of course, causes the stock to continue to rise because the short seller has started buying too, and it feeds off itself. Stock rises, short seller buys to cover before the price goes up further, which causes the price to rise more, which causes the short seller to buy back more…et cetera.
To use my earlier example of shorting Big Company stock. I borrowed 100 shares and sold at $10, expecting it to go down. Instead, say it goes down to $6 but then starts to come back up. Panicked (and not wanting to lose my profit), I buy 25 shares at $6 — which adds to the increase in price. I still owe my broker 75 shares and the price is rising. So I buy 25 more shares at $8, still owing 50 and my profit is shrinking fast… If it goes to $10, I lose profit on my remaining 50 shares and if it keeps going over $10 I’m losing money. The phenomenon of the price rising against my short and me adding to it is a short squeeze: I’m the one getting squeezed.
I first checked the price of GameStock (GME) on Tuesday at the market open, finding it at about $143/share. My first response was “this is absurd,” the company is in no way worth that. This is a stock that back in October was under $10/share and their business model wasn’t very forward thinking (brick and mortar as games moved online). I checked the stock chart of GME:
At this point, I still had no idea r/wallstreetbets was behind it or what was even going on. From a chart and price perspective, this just looked like a pure mania play. The RSI (relative strength index), the green blob in the top right corner, showed 98+ which means the stock is white hot and severely overbought. My first instinct was to bet against the move using puts.
First: Why bet against it? The reasoning is that it continues to take more money to push a stock price up. Someone (or some fund) must be willing to buy at the current price. In order to sustain huge price gains, there must always be another buyer. The minute no one wants to buy a stock at a certain price, the selloff begins. This is what happened with the dot com crash and any subsequent crash of a stock or market after parabolic moves. I had played a similar trade back in April 2011 in silver:
In late April 2011, silver had climbed to incredibly high levels very quickly. The RSI was high and I knew it couldn’t stay up forever. I bought puts on SLV and within a week the price of silver collapsed. Most money I ever made trading in a day. So, to me, it looked like a similar setup for GME.
I went to make my trade in my Fidelity account but found I wasn’t registered to trade options (my silver play was done in an E-Trade account I’ve since abandoned). I applied, but had to wait at least three days. So, with no trade to make that day, I decided to research exactly what was going on — would I still get a chance to buy puts later in the week? Would the stock mania still be going? So I started to dig.
And I realized something incredible was happening.
Part Two: Can’t Stop. Won’t Stop. GameStop.
It turns out that the story behind GameStop’s ridiculous rise wasn’t the typical ‘rumor mill’ drive up found in past stock manias (remember JDS Uniphase?). It wasn’t a case of “Blue Horseshoe Loves GameStop.” It was a grassroots movement to ‘strike back’ against a faceless enemy in the Wall Street hedge fund. Resentment towards Wall Street for the 2008 housing crash was channeled now into this new play.
What savvy users like /DeepFuckingValue, Roaring Kitty, and r/wallstreetbets discovered was that the big players were extremely exposed on GameStop stock and would be required to buy it at any price. They could create an extremely painful (and expensive) short squeeze against the hedge funds shorting the stock, particularly Melvin Capital. So word was spread, and the degenerates of r/wallstreetstock began to buy GME stock. More importantly, they didn’t just buy — the message was to HOLD.
They would buy up as many shares as they could get their hands on and deny them to the hedge funds. Then they would get their friends, family, and anyone who would listen, to buy and hold too. Because GME was shorted over 140%, more shares were needed to cover than were available, so denying ANY shares further would make things exponentially more painful. Supply and Demand was on full display as GME price rose.
As the price climbed, the redditors’ strategy appeared validated. The truth is, it was a smart play. They caught Melvin with their pants down. Why such a huge short play on GME? I don’t exactly know; GME had a been the target of short plays over the past two years. Maybe Wall Street knew they were a weak target whose stock price could be easily pushed down, particularly with GameStop closing their stores during the pandemic last year. A more insidious theory would suggest Melvin and others wanted to short GME to zero, folding the company and not having to buy back ANY shares, thus keeping 100% of their profit. Regardless, GME’s price was starting to “moon” as it climbed faster.
By Tuesday I noticed the stock and its chart. The grassroots movement was working. Profits garnered interest in what was going on. Interest prompted more buyers — but for the redditors it wasn’t necessarily to get rich, it was to be part of the experience. The GME play had gone viral…like a meme. GME was the first “memestock.” The real memes was also appearing.
When the pandemic started in 2020, lockdowns began and people on the street found themselves stuck at home, receiving stimulus checks and $600 Federal unemployment bonuses. With nothing else to do and/or no work, many took to the retail trading platforms Robinhood and M1 Finance. According to the NY Times, in the first three months of 2020, Robinhood “users traded nine times as many shares as E-Trade customers, and 40 times as many as Charles Schwab customers,” and according to CNBC, retail brokers in 2020 saw “record new account openings…despite the pandemic.” Credit where credit is due: Robinhood and M1 Finance and their $0 commission fee for trading helped force other larger brokers to compete, like Charles Schwab and Fidelity, and drop their commission to $0 as well.
These new retail investors moved like a swarm in 2020, charging after hot name stocks like Tesla (TSLA). The GameStop phenomenon presented itself as the next big target to buy. r/wallstreetbets (now up to 7 million followers in the second day of writing this post) would soon attract these millions of new street investors to their cause. Together, they pushed GameStop up to dizzying heights.
By Wednesday, GME was over $300 and Michael Burry — up 1,500% on the rally — was now calling the GameStop price rocket “unnatural” and “insane.”
Then something else began to happen. r/wallstreetbets continued to dig and found heavy short positions on other stocks too (just not has hefty as GME). From highshortinterest.com here (as of the end of the week of January 25th) the stocks with the highest short interest (GME lower than the 140% originally, down to 121% which means some shares were bought to cover some of the short):
On Wednesday I decided to enter the fold, just for fun. I had no plans to dive into GME stock head first and my options trading still hadn’t been approved by Fidelity (and still no word). For my own entertainment, I chose AMC stock — I love movies and it seemed an interesting play. It hadn’t rocketed up quite like GME did and maybe it would. I got to play a company related to movie and feel like part of this cultural event.
Someone clearly wasn’t happy with r/wallstreetbets. By Wednesday afternoon the subreddit was knocked out of commission, going ‘private’ and not being available to anyone who visited. Even further, the WallStreetBets Discord channel was banned outright. The subreddit would appear public again late Wednesday evening or early Thursday morning, but to this date, the Discord server is still gone. Was this a co-ordinated attack? There’s no doubt at this point WSB was pissing off powers that be.
I would personally experience the coming “fuckery” first hand the following day. It would also validate my original thesis on why GME was a good put choice back on Tuesday (again, before I knew anything about r/wallstreetbets involvement). As if things couldn’t get any wilder, Elon Musk tweeted that day just after market close, driving the price up even more with foreign investors:
Part Three: The House Always Wins…Or Does It?
On Wednesday I was in the game. There were struggles out of the gate; most major brokers were suffering delays in filling orders, likely due to heavy volume. At Tuesday’s close, AMC was just over $6. By pre-market, it had climbed over $12. I was able to finally get my trade through after the bell at 9:30am at $16.50. On Wednesday AMC climbed and closed at $19.90. News came out after the closing bell that Melvin Capital and Citron had exited their short (after getting absolutely leveled). The amount lost by these two hedge funds has varied in the news — Melvin Capital has supposedly lost $7 billion, 53% of their assets under management. GME was over $340/share and the trade was moving in the direction the Redditors planned. Wednesday evening, investing commentary site ZeroHedge reported “Hedge Funds Are Puking Longs to Cover Short-Squeeze Losses.” “Puking longs” means hedge funds are selling long positions to get cash to cover losses incurred due to losses caused by the short squeeze. This is what being margin called looks like.
On Thursday morning, the pre-market price of AMC hit $22. GME was up over $400. Both had been pushed up overnight by foreign traders in India and Europe. North America was getting ready for the next round of the fight when something I’ve never seen before happened.
Brokerages began to restrict only buying not selling. In fact, users were reporting Robinhood (and TD Ameritrade) had REMOVED the buy button for certain equities, namely GME and AMC.
So for all the “meme stocks” (e.g., the heavily shorted stocks pointed out by WSB), Robinhood and TDA were not allowing their users to buy. Promptly, the price on these stocks began to fall. With the retail traders shut out en masse, the sellers would overwhelm the buyers. My shares of AMC were down to $12 when the market opened, wiping out over $7/share in profit. GME price took it on the chin.
Robinhood was blasted across social media for the restrictions, prompting many to suggest alternatives. A Change.org petition appeared to remove Robinhood from the App Store. “How to delete Robinhood” was quickly trending on Google later that day as well. Protestors appeared in-person on Wall Street to demanding that “Robinhood has got to go.”
Robinhood was claiming they were restricting the stock purchases to protect themselves AND their investors. What it looked like was Robinhood was trying to prevent the dreaded failure to deliver (FTD) that would destroy Robinhood and its capital investors. By failing to deliver, they open themselves up to lawsuits and bankruptcy. By restricting purchases, it helps protect against FTD, but the PR damage was total. RH was a accused of being complicit with the hedge funds to help cover their GME shorts. If retail investors couldn’t buy and only sell, it helped drive down the GME price for the hedge funds to recover. In addition, only being able to sell and not buy might cause panic to the retail investor to get OUT of their Robinhood account, making them hit the “sell” button, thus driving the price lower.
Anyway, at this point I could see the severe shenanigans going on. AMC dropped to the $8 range and I was in the red in my tiny position. I debated just holding and waiting. Then I noticed that every time AMC started to climb back up, the price would halt. Somebody was enacting a trading halt on AMC and GME; I counted no less than 10 halts on the price of AMC before noon alone. Something was happening. After some debate, and the price climbing back to $10/share, I got out. I could have held — I thought about it — but I didn’t like the manipulation and dark forces at work. I took the loss and I’m totally fine with it. It was fun to play and dip my toe into this cultural event.
But Robinhood preventing people from buying shares of GME or AMC was only half of the situation. According to several RH users, the app was also selling their GameStock without their permission. Robinhood later denied this had happened, but users took to social media to share screenshots showing the confirmations their accounts had executed sell orders:
One redditor, Palidor206, described everything happening with Robinhood as such:
Part 4: Welcome to Thunderdome
This is a long post, so let’s recap:
- Savvy Redditors and a YouTube identified an exploitable play on short sellers of GameStock (GME) shares. They began buying up shares and holding, which encouraged others. The price of GME began to climb.
- Early this week GME climbed over $140/share and the number followers of the subreddit r/wallstreetbets exploded. On Wednesday at market open, brokers (including my own, Fidelity) lagged and struggled to keep up with volume.
- On Thursday, Robinhood and TD Ameritrade began restricting purchases of the ‘meme stocks’ — GME, AMC, NAKD, BB, NOK, etc. At first the buy button for these stocks was removed; eventually users were restricted to only 1 share. The sell button was always available.
- Public backlash at Robinhood exploded, with people protesting and flooding the App Store with 1-star reviews of the app (which Google later removed 100,000 of)
On Friday, although Robinhood restricted purchasing, GME price was back up. AMC was back up (dammit). Nokia (NOK) and BlackBerry (BB) either didn’t have the same force behind them or truly were just a meme as they slid, apparently due to lack of interest.
By this point, the emotions behind this retail investor flood went far beyond greed. Followers of r/wallstreetbets began sharing personal stories of why they were doing this. To them, it was personal. They remembered 2008 and what the hedge funds had done to their friends and family. It was payback. Braveheart memes abounded. Perhaps most fascinating about this whole thing was that many of these investors were on suicide missions: it didn’t matter if they made money or if they lost it all. They just wanted to make the hedge funds hurt.
Here’s the story of Space-Peanut on reddit (which has since been removed by a reddit mod, but is available here)
These people don’t care if they lose everything. They don’t care if GME goes to $0. To the reddit investor this is war. They don’t care if it crashes everything down. It’s a new form of populist revolt. As Space-Peanut put it, “Taking money from me won’t hurt me, because I don’t value it at all. I’ll burn it all down just to spite them.”
It’s like being in a gunfight with Doc Holliday — he’s not afraid to take a bullet because you’d just be doing him a favor.
By the way, while writing this, r/wallstreetbets is now up to 7.5 million ‘degenerates.’
The redditors with new found money are now using it to taunt Wall Street publicly.
5. You Are Here
GME is at a mania pitch. The memes are coming hard and fast. There’s reason to think there’s some panic on Wall Street, or at least concern for the chain reaction caused by the Robinhood debacle. See, on Wall Street, everything is interconnected. Brokerages deal with banks and clearing houses. You buy and sell stock in your broker account and it seems instant, but a lot of time it takes days to settle or ‘clear.’ Worst of all, perhaps, is no one knows how deep things can go from one short squeeze.
It’s Sunday afternoon and markets will open in a few hours. What will tomorrow bring? Will GME continue its meteoric rise? Where will the reddit ‘hive-mind’ turn to next? This event with not be without consequence — hedge funds will probably need bailed out. Expect government regulatory commissions and investigations. Will things reach 2008 levels again?
Maybe. Who knows?
WSB has kicked over a rock, exposing what was beneath it. Then they picked up the rock and threw it at a bees’ nest. I expect WSB to be demonized by the media and ‘powers that be.’ These market distortions are they’re fault, after all. If only they had left GME alone this wouldn’t have happened.
What does all this have to do with Quitting Your Job? This blog is certainly not advocating jumping on a bandwagon or chasing the herd for profit. But the biggest takeaway here is the old Boy Scout maxim of “Always Be Prepared.” Weeks ago redditors found a great stock market play. Who knows when the next one will arrive. That also applies in the event the market crashes; if you’re ready, stocks or assets can be bought for cheap while everyone is selling. The other thing I see happening in r/wallstreetbets and Twitter is people on the street becoming interested in financial education — how the stock market works, how stock is traded, what terms mean what. They’re a long way from being savvy, but the interest and desire to learn more is there.
I’m still out on all these meme stocks. But I’m bingewatching the show and it’s fascinating.
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the stocks mentioned in this post. I do not hold GME. I also do not use Robinhood. Caveat emptor.