It all started with the prospect of making stashes of cash while sitting at home during a lonely and boring pandemic.
But the GameStop frenzy may have got a little out of hand, turning into a Robin Hood-like fight with the underdog trying to get a piece of the pie hogged by rich Wall St investment traders.
Reddit users of the subgroup WallStreetBets – which has nearly four million members – have tried to cash in with a move too alike the plot of The Big Short, a fictional movie where everyday traders try to push out greedy millionaires and billionaires.
It’s a stock market strategy called “short selling”, which is basically when investors make a profit by selling stock they think is going to dive in value and then buy it back at a lower price.
It drove the share price up a staggering 1700 per cent from the start of January to Wednesday.
All eyes were on GameStop. Even the White House was monitoring GameStop’s activity, including newly sworn-in Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
Billionaire Elon Musk even got in, tweeting a link to the Reddit message board, which saw GameStop’s stock end the day on Wednesday up nearly seven times its value from where it was less than a month ago.
The stock fell on Thursday, but investors are still closely watching.
Reddit users investing in the stock were using an app called Robinhood which makes it easy to trade because there are no fees. But the app warns traders that stock trading “entails significant risk and is not appropriate for all investors”.
The frency has led to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Friday saying its regulators were keeping an eye on the whipsawing share prices of some Wall Street stocks that had been targeted by a social media-driven campaign to make wealthy hedge funds suffer.
“The commission is closely monitoring and evaluating the extreme price volatility of certain stocks’ trading prices over the past several days,” the SEC said in a statement, a day after some platforms restricted trading in GameStop, AMC Entertainment and other stocks caught up in the surge.
“We will act to protect retail investors when the facts demonstrate abusive or manipulative trading activity that is prohibited by the federal securities laws.” The regulator also said it “will closely review actions taken by regulated entities that may disadvantage investors or otherwise unduly inhibit their ability to trade certain securities.”
Investors who organised over Reddit and other forums have in recent days targeted shares of companies that had been short-sold by hedge funds, which have bet that the price of the company would fall.
Their tactics have caused massive spikes in share prices, and on Thursday Robinhood decided to limit trades on the most volatile stocks.
While many Reddit users who posted their big gains on the Reddit thread, others lost their quick wins overnight.
Some of the Reddit users on the thread are throwing in all their savings into the stock market, tagging their posts with YOLO, meaning “you only live once”.
One user, Omar, a son of immigrants who threw all his money into the investment, lost thousands of dollars in the frenzy.
“There is a pandemic. There is nothing to do. I can’t party. I can’t go outside, and the prospect of making a little money sounds really good,” he told CNN Business.
He’s back on the thread, trying to make his money back.
The WallStreetBets thread was founded in 2012 by Jaime Rogozinski, who was removed from the site by Reddit in April 2020 because Reddit says he was profiting off the WallStreetBets brand, which he denies.
One user who claimed to be a healthcare worker gambled away years of savings, posting a screenshot of a US$134,000 loss. “I went from a rational investor to some sick irrational desperate gambler,” the user wrote.
However, just weeks after the “farewell” note to other users, they were back on the site.
Another who claimed to have lost US$28,000 said: “Lot of people asking if I’m okay. Honestly, not really. It’s going to take a long time to recover financially, and maybe even longer emotionally, knowing how much damage I’ve done to my own life in more ways than just the money.”
High-risk trades come with the tantalising possibility of high rewards. The site is an array of wild losses and gains, with many users taking risky bets by putting in all their savings into a single investment, often without much experience.
Another user, AJ Vanover, who works a retail job in an auto-parts store in Missouri, making around US$35,000 a year, became a millionaire while working from home for a week after a colleague tested positive from COVID. It’s not likely he will return to his old job – unless, of course, he loses his winnings.
A college student and part-time pharmacist, Minhajul, who was born in Bangladesh and was raised in Queens, New York, managed to spin his initial US$1200 investment into a mammoth US$280,000 in just two weeks at the end of July.
But by July 30, before he could let his wild dreams of being rich get away from him, the portfolio had bled US$220,000 practically overnight.
One WallStreetBets Reddit user said: “Stop listening to the media that’s making us out to be market destroyers, and start rooting for us, because we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to punish the sort of people who caused so much pain and stress a decade ago, and we’re taking that opportunity.”
The GameStop stock was sitting between a meagre $US3 ($A4) and $US10 ($13) for much of the past year but has hit four straight days of increases.
At one stage its stock was priced higher than Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Disney, as it surged by 93 per cent with its shares climbing above $US300 ($A393).
There’s hardly a doubt GameStop’s share value will drop significantly when the frenzy wears off.