The GameStop (GME) short squeeze of 2021 ushered in a brave new world for everyday investors — the 99 per cent.
It was Occupy Wall Street 2.0, and it took place entirely online through social media and DIY trading apps that opened up the guarded world of stock trading to everyone.
The stock saga, and some of the people who won big, are featured in a film I directed called Wall Street Blues, a documentary from The Passionate Eye.
A David and Goliath tale
Tom Sosnoff runs Tastytrade, a financial network that helps retail traders like you and me get into online investing.
“The GameStop explosion was a transformational moment in this business. It just attracted a lot of people to the space that had never been attracted to [it] before,” he says in the documentary. “All of a sudden, there was 30 million new investors globally.”
At its peak stock price in January 2021, GameStop commanded attention around the world. News channels told a David and Goliath tale of individual investors banding together online to take on the Wall Street heavyweights.
For a few amazing weeks, the retail investors seemed to have the upper hand. The struggling video game retailer’s shares soared to stratospheric heights, creating paper millionaires out of everyday people. Hedge funds lost billions betting the wrong way, prompting many people to ask if a revolution was upon the financial world.
It’s clear who still has the real power … for now
A full-blown financial revolution did not transpire in the aftermath of early 2021, but it’s not exactly back to the status quo either.
If the GameStop story has a legacy, it’s that a whole new generation of investors believe they can make themselves rich instead of leaving it to the “experts.”
Joe Fonicello was among the first retail investors on Reddit to jump on the GME joyride. He ultimately made over $250,000 US and started his own business after moving to Southern California.
“I think gone are the days of people reading EuroJournal and the New York Times and financial journalism to learn about companies to invest in,” he says in the documentary. “People are learning more and more about their trades on social media.”
However, the more things change, the more they stay the same. While the GameStop frenzy revealed it was possible to move markets as an online community, it also showed who still has the real power.
Robinhood, the main trading app used during the 2021 stock run, eventually switched off the option to buy GameStop stock and blocked new investors from diving in. Robinhood claims that it was forced to make the decision because demand was too high for the company to meet certain regulatory requirements. But in an open and free market, it’s not meant to work that way.
Congress investigated, but beyond a slap on the wrist, it hasn’t handed out any significant punishments so far. The system, it seemed, survived this latest populist challenge.
The new financial frontier
Investment firms still control the ebb and flow of Wall Street, but perhaps they’re more aware of the power of the people now. WallStreetBets, the subreddit where much of the movement began, now boasts more than 13 million users, up from two million in early 2021.
The spirit of revolution in personal finance is alive and well, and likely to grow stronger.
Sarah Satoshi works in Bitcoin education, but her newest venture is educating others on the NFT market.
“I really loved seeing the whole GameStop thing play out because it was a bunch of retail traders coming together and just, like, giving the middle finger to the hedge fund guys,” she told me during production of the documentary.
Financial markets have long benefited those who are already wealthy. Today, the parallel online trading system isn’t controlled by Wall Street or central bankers, and it’s growing rapidly.
With a market capitalization of over $1 trillion in January of 2021, cryptocurrencies have been touted as the new frontier for financial markets. Despite the recent volatility and bankruptcy of crypto exchanges, they may still be an attractive option for many investors in the future, in part because they have no allegiances to traditional markets.
Bitcoin, crypto, NFTs…the entire digital asset market seems poised to be the natural destination for the 99 per cent, where they’re free to make — or lose — money on their own terms.
Watch Wall Street Blues on The Passionate Eye.
Scott Harper is the director of Wall Street Blues