When GameStop, the world’s largest video game retailer, started the year less than a month ago, its stock was trading around $19 per share — underscoring the market’s ongoing concern about packaged-media gaming in the digital age.
But that lull has been blown to pieces over the past few days as speculative at-home investors took to social media platform Reddit and began playing up the stock to some of the platform’s 3 million users. In the process, GameStop shares skyrocketed 1,700% to $347 per share, triggering mandatory trading stops by Nasdaq in an attempt to keep the stock, and the market, stable. The stock was up 8,949% (!) over the past 12 months.
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“You combine the power of technology, which allows you … to magnify your individual impact, with some use of leverage and very targeted bets, they can have a significant influence, particularly on areas of vulnerability because of the short positions,” Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at the Leuthold Group, told CNBC.
GameStop shares sank early on Jan. 28 as trading platforms including Robinhood and Interactive Brokers restricted trading in the video game retailer. The stock opened at $265 a share and briefly rose to $483 before plummeting to $112. As of 11:45 a.m. EST the stock had rebounded to $225.
The frenzy has defied some Wall Street hedge funds and analysts unaccustomed to seeing day-traders on social media trigger a “short squeeze,” which occurs when a stock skyrockets quickly in value, forcing short sellers (including hedge funds) who had bet that the stock price would fall, to buy again in order to forestall even greater losses. It’s a cruel trading strategy magnified by “mob rule,” with some participants looking for paper wins at the expense of others.
“This is gaining cult-like status,” said Quincy Krosby with Prudential Financial. “It is a pack of traders and the pack is gaining momentum. The retail crowd is not just taking over the shorts and it’s taking over the headlines.”
Indeed, GameStop has been the biggest trending retail market story this week. Longtime video game analyst Michael Pachter contends GameStop is well-positioned to be a primary beneficiary of the new PlayStation and Xbox consoles from Sony and Microsoft, respectively. The video game industry concluded a record 2020 that saw revenue explode to $57 billion, with December sales up 25% due to the new consoles.
“We remain quite optimistic that [GameStop] will return to profitability by fiscal-year 2021,” Pachter wrote optimistically in a Jan. 11 note.
Fast-forward to the present and Pachter shakes his head at the craziness while maintaining a “neutral” rating on the GME stock he values at $19 per share.
“It’s just a feeding frenzy,” Pachter said in a media interview. “There’s nobody in this stock based on fundamentals.”
Indeed, recent fundamentals saw GME worldwide sales results for the nine-week holiday period, ended Jan. 2, increase 4.8% in comparable store sales and 309% in e-commerce sales. But total sales declined 3.1%, driven by an 11% decrease in GameStop’s store base due to a planned “de-densification” strategy, temporary store closures around the world due to pandemic-related government mandates, and lower foot traffic in stores.
“The guys buying [GME shares] at $300 think some greater fool will buy at $400, and so far the greater fools keep showing up,” Pachter said. “It’s a pyramid scheme.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a longtime advocate for stricter Wall Street regulations, says the uproar from institutional investors about GameStop trading is disingenuous in the face of the investment industry’s long history of questionable self-dealings and operating counter to actual economic concerns.
“For years, the same hedge funds, private equity firms, and wealthy investors dismayed by the GameStop trades have treated the stock market like their own personal casino while everyone else pays the price,” Warren said in a Jan. 27 social media post.