How to (not) regulate investor subreddits
Updated: Feb 6, 2021
The ride up and down in GME shares has resulted in much hand-wringing and pearl clutching at regulators, professional investors and retail brokerages. “The markets are manipulated by hedge funds”. “Citadel is the devil: How could they do that?” “Individual investors are manipulating the market” etc etc etc
Business school profs and popular texts use the (almost entirely invented) history of tulipmania as an allegorical warning for those who might otherwise believe that chasing irrational bubbles is the key to riches. Again, as truth is stranger than fiction, GME will replace tulips as the quintessential example of irrationality in the short run. Even the most casual observer – never mind the “outsiders” at wallstreetbets who in some cases gambled with their life savings – will take away that the system is rigged. Perhaps not rigged in the ways most often touted, however.
Any professional financial trader would have seen all the signs ex ante of course. But the GME saga, though still ongoing, revealed to a new generation of speculators what the experienced among us already knew:
1. Insiders in a run have the inside track as they buy early and at the lowest price. They can survive almost any crash, so have the least to lose and the most to gain from touting the investment (see Deepf*ckingvalue’s story here, still holding because he can).
2. Slightly later “big money” (institutions, billionaires) can push the markets higher through buying in size, or even, as in this case, threatening to buy in size. However, these rational momentum players tend to cash out when the next and most naïve buyers enter.
3. Buyers later in the cycle have the most to lose, and usually do.
4. Corners and squeezes almost always fail.
There are lots of possible points of regulatory failure, but one we do not need to focus on is protecting retail investors from themselves. Hopefully that lesson has been learned: The average retail investor has realized that they are always going to be the losers in “pump and dumps”.
Of course, there are also other lessons to learn, about T+2, clearing houses, options bid-offers, HFT, paying for order flow. But these details aren’t necessary to understand if you don’t pile on to a bubble.
GME may still be a value play at current prices. I for one won’t try to guess. We know that, historically, a small percentage of stocks are responsible for most of the long-term gains in the stock market, while most stocks underperform. Time will tell which type GME is.
In the meantime, leave the nests of retail stonk bros alone. Those who don’t learn from history…