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What this Gamestop stock upheaval could mean for the future of finance

(BUSINESS FINANCE) Yay America! We’ve witnessed our first populist uprising in finance, all thanks to the Gamestop drama unfolding in the last week.

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Gamestop storefront in a shopping mall.

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the last week, chances are you’ve heard about the drama surrounding the GameStop stock. Essentially, GameStop – or that spot I used to frequent in middle school to search through bins for used N64 games – has become the epicenter for what’s being called the first populist uprising in finance. We love to hear it.

What happened?

For some background, GameStop became one of the most shorted stocks on the market. Groups within Wall Street’s hedge funds, known as the short sellers, have been colluding with each other and using the media to manipulate the market – and in doing so, were able to drive down the value of specific stocks (i.e., GameStop, which was essentially put on-course for bankruptcy) and, in turn, collect billions. This is common, legal practice on Wall Street. Just in case you were wondering.

Enter Reddit’s r/WallStreetBets page; another key player in this drama. With just shy of 2 million users last week (and now with over 7.4 million), WallStreetBets is a place where amateur day traders can exchange tips on penny stocks and rake in the “tendies”. Recently, one user popularized the fact that over 100% of GameStop’s stock was being shorted for no valid reason, so many from the group decided to take action – they began buying up cheap shares of the stock and demanding that their brokers not lend their stocks to short sellers, which in turn exploded the market value of GameStop as the short sellers attempted to “cover their shorts”.

Long story short (ha!), the entire GameStop drama has resulted in at least $3.3 billion disappearing from hedge fund balance sheets. One of the Wall Street hedge funds targeted by the Redditors, Melvin Capital, had to take a $2.75 billion bailout from other industry insiders. GameStop’s stock skyrocketed from $17.25 at the beginning of the year to $325 by this past Friday – reportedly the largest gains the company has seen in 18 years.

What you should consider

  • GameStop is brick-and-mortar. They sell the clunky, physical versions of games, which can be bought online with less hassle. Let’s face it; outside of the few nerds who still enjoy the experience of standing in line to be the first to buy the new game, the retailer is essentially becoming obsolete. COVID, of all things, has only expedited this process. Even with the release of new gaming consoles, such as the PS5, the likelihood of GameStop bouncing back to its former heyday is highly unlikely. Hence the term “meme stock”. With a meme stock, users chose to invest in the name of an allegiance, based on a feeling, or just “for the lulz”, not because of perceived value. Wall Street elites do this all the time (Tesla, anybody?), but with the complicity of the media so we all buy into it as well. When people say: “The stock market is just a graph of rich people’s feelings”, they’re not kidding.
  • Many of the involved Redditors are likely unemployed millennials, disenfranchised by the economic fallout from the pandemic, who have sat by and watched as the rich have gotten richer. Like, so much richer. According to some, this movement is less about the financial gains (though they must be sweet) and more about screwing the shorters – it’s about pointing out how corrupt a minimally-regulated free market is when it is only truly serving the elite inner circles of Wall Street at the expense of everyone else. So why can shorters short with mainstream backing just because they’re wearing suits?
  • While I wish GameStop-gate was a simple populist win, it’s important to note that the rich own most of the market shares. Though some Wall Street wealth is undoubtedly being redistributed into the pockets of Main Street right now, let us not forget that a byproduct of the Redditors’ rebellion is that the already rich stockholders are now even richer. This poses the question of if you can have a real populist financial uprising if you’re working within the current market systems in place, which are designed to feed the few and deregulated to insure it.

What does the future hold?

Good question. As of now, everyone is scrambling to make sense of what has happened; Redditors are celebrating with a sleuth of victorious memes while politicians (*cough* Janet Yellen), the hedge funds, and the media gatekeepers are calling foul play, collusion and even meddling from the Russians (LOL).

Also, can we talk about the fact that the politicians (on both sides!) who reacted so urgently to the GameStop mania were the same ones dragging their feet to come up with a stimulus checks agreement?

In addition, Robinhood — the now infamous commission-free investing tool — put a pause on GameStop and other meme stocks, like AMC, Nokia, BlackBerry, and American Airlines. Others want the FCC to get involved. The pot WOULD call the kettle black.

All this being said, I think that GameStop-gate has, in a lot of ways, opened Pandora’s box, exposing the possibility of power-shifts and new financial realities to many who might feel powerless and financially vulnerable, especially right now. That the average Reddit day trader, when properly rallied alongside her fellow troops, could give such a massive middle finger to the hedge funds and make a little extra cash along the way is truly inspiring.

I think we’re going to see more meme stock shenanigans (AMC’s stock had quadrupled at one point!), and the weeding out of greedy short sellers with the methodical drole-ness that only a subreddit could conjure. Unfortunately, I do also see an eventual crash, a bubble bursting, that will leave many investors who didn’t get out in time at a loss. And many plan on riding out the storm, when she comes, in solidarity.

Gamestop stock meme - Billionaire encourages middle class to invest in stock market, increases stock against them, Billionaire gains angry eyebrows in response.

My two cents

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think short selling as it stands now should be legal, nor do I think speculative buying is a good idea. It’s gambling. And it’s dangerous.

But the Government would never enforce a blanket policy against all speculative buying, not when the billionaires who reap the majority of the benefits are buddy-buddy with the media and lawmakers. Plus, how would the right, in all its free-trade glory, react to increased market regulations? Could this mania uncover the elusive partisan glue we’ve all been looking for? Oh, how the turn tables.

My take? Beyond everything else, I see this as an opportunity for something even larger. We’ve learned that everyday people like you and me can be a part of something greater; something that shakes our market’s foundations. GameStop (sorry nerds!) is a random company that doesn’t have too much appeal beyond the games they sell (the same ones you can get online).

But what if we could drive up the market price on other companies that are being shorted for the wrong reasons? Companies that we could all get behind, such as ones that pay their workers well or that share equity with their employees. What we’ve learned from this all is that with collective action directed towards the corrupt “cartel” of Wall Street’s inner circle, you can take key players down and make waves.

And, at the end of the day, isn’t that the best way to approach a free market — to make it serve the people?

Anaïs DerSimonian is a writer, filmmaker, and educator interested in media, culture and the arts. She is Clark University Alumni with a degree in Culture Studies and Screen Studies. She has produced various documentary and narrative projects, including a profile on an NGO in Yerevan, Armenia that provides micro-loans to cottage industries and entrepreneurs based in rural regions to help create jobs, self-sufficiency, and to stimulate the post-Soviet economy. She is currently based in Boston. Besides filmmaking, Anaïs enjoys reading good fiction and watching sketch and stand-up comedy.

Business Finance

Will China’s new digital currency really compete with the US Dollar?

(BUSINESS FINANCE) It isn’t the first time that China has tried to compete with the dollar, but the release of a digital currency has lead some economists to raise red flags.

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Man holding phone in one hand and credit card in other hand, handling digital currency.

For decades the US has been the world standard for foreign trade. As of 2019, 88% of all trades were being backed by that almighty dollar, making it the backbone of the world economy. However, China may be sneaking in something new for digital currency. 

In the last few months, over 100k people were “airdropped” cold hard digital currency. This currency came from People’s Bank of China (PBOC), who has created a digital manifestation of the Chinese yuan. This is planned to run concurrently with its paper and coin playmates. Upon initial inspection, they resemble the same structure as Bitcoin and Ethereum. But there’s a major difference here: The Chinese government is the one fronting the money.

The suspected plan behind this is that the government plans to tightly control the value of the digital yuan, which they are known to do with the paper one as well. This would create a unique item within the world of cryptocurrency. Personally, I don’t think that any of this is going to go anywhere soon. Too many people still need hard currency but it does open up a unique aspect of currency that has only just started since debit and credit cards. It gives the government the ability to spy on its cryptocurrency users. Being able to monitor transaction flows can reveal things like tax evasion and spending habits. There is even the possibility of experimenting with expiring cash.

But how does this affect the US? There’s a method that has been used by Americans since WWII called dollar weaponization.  The exchange domination allows the US government to monitor how the dollars move across the border. Along with that monitoring they are actually able to freeze people out of global financial products as well. It’s a phenomenal amount of power to hold. 

The concern for economists is that the price fixing capabilities of this new currency as well as its backer being an entire countries government could affect everything about the global financial system. Only time will tell how true that turns out to be.

There are a number of possibilities that could come up honestly and they could fall flat on their face unless they put their entire monetary worth behind it. Only time will tell but some economists are already calling for DigiDollars from the American government. Another step into the future.

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Business Finance

A tiger shows its stripes: The growth of Tiger Global and their investments

(BUSINESS FINANCE) Tiger Global has been acquiring a load of tech companies – let’s talk about who they have and how they’ve been so successful.

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Two business partners shaking hands as part of a Tiger Global acquisition deal.

In 2003, Tiger Global was founded by Chase Coleman who began his career at Tiger Management (brilliant name choice). In the ensuing years the investing firm expanded to include private equity and venture investing. Today it’s hitting the charts at $65B with its employees (number at ~100) being the firms’ biggest shareholders.

Earlier this month, Tiger Global raised one of the largest pots of VC money ever recorded, coming in at $6.7B. These came from a list of occurrences and investments.

  • Roblox: A sandbox gaming startup, Tiger Global owned 10% when it went public in March and the value is hitting ~$38B+
  • Stripe: A fintech firm Tiger Global leaped onto this investment when Stripe announced a $600m rise in value at a $95B monetary evaluation of the company.
  • M&A wins: In 2020, 3 portfolio companies (Postmates, Kustomer, & Credit Karma) of Tiger Global were acquired in billion-dollar deals.

The tactics that Tiger Global stands by are well documented in a few different locations. One of the biggest that they push is speed. The deals that fly across their tables are completed in just 3 days, far outpacing other firms. When you are an investment firm hour are a time between success and failure. To keep up with these ideas, they have a pre-emptive approach to startups. Doing thorough research and throwing money at people before they even start looking for it. Knowledge is power and this lets them get their foot in the door faster than anybody else.

Resources and a monstrous war chest are 2 of the other factors that they set their claim to fame on. The numerous portfolio companies have high-priced consultants thrown at them for advice on a regular basis. These consultants just add to the success of the companies and keep things building. Where does this money come from? The stakeholders. The mountainous mounds of money that this firm keeps on hand is matched very few in the world. Scrouge McDuck would be hard pressed to keep up with these guys.

They also keep to long-term holdings as an approach to their methods. Unlike traditional VCs, Tiger Global operates public market hedge funds which provides price stability for startups since it doesn’t have to distribute funds after an IPO, unlike traditional VCs.

In the first quarter of 2021 Tiger Global has closed 60 deals, keeping with their hit the ground sprinting approach. They have bids on a number of different companies already as well (ByteDance, Discord, Hopin, & Coinbase). At least one of these reaches a value into the tens of billions. This company is set to be one of the fastest growing groups in the globe. Who knows where it will stop? Let’s wait and see, or join. Whatever hits your fancy.

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Business Finance

India bans cryptocurrency prior to releasing their own

(BUSINESS FINANCE) India is potentially planning to ban cryptocurrency — and instead, they’re planning to introduce their own version of it for purchase.

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Cryptocurrency coin on a phone open to a purchasing app.

Owning mainstream cryptocurrency these days is a bit like owning a pair of Crocs: Potentially lucrative (especially if you’re Post Malone), but mostly just weird. A recent report shows that India is planning on adding “illegal” to that list, possibly ahead of launching their own cryptocurrency in place of the banned ones.

The proposed law would also fine anyone found tradingor even simply owningbanned cryptocurrencies in India. Mining and transferring ownership of cryptocurrency would similarly warrant punitive measures.

CNBC notes that this law would be “one of the world’s strictest policies against cryptocurrencies” to date. While some countries have imposed strict laws regarding things like mining and trading cryptocurrency, India would be the first country to make owning it illegal.

Some talk of jail timeincluding sentences of up to 10 yearsfor cryptocurrency owners and users was floated by Indian lawmakers back in 2019, but there is no explicit indication that those terms would be present in this rendition of the bill.

To be fair to the lawmakers involved here, the bill wouldn’t be as cut-and-dry as “has bitcoin, gets fined.” According to the CNBC report, people who own cryptocurrency would be able to “liquidate” their earnings for up to six months preceding the bill going into effect. This would theoretically allow investors to hold onto their portfolios for a bit longer before having to cash out.

But that leniency might not matter anyway. It doesn’t take a genius to see that this move could do two dramatic things to the cryptocurrency market: Add yet another niche option for investors, and destabilize every other pre-existing cryptocurrency optionor, at least, make them less stable than they already were.

In fact, the simple introduction and threat of this bill could be enough for the cryptocurrency market to take a nosedivesomething that can’t be discounted as a factor in making this decision. Current reports put Indian-owned bitcoin values at roughly $1.4 billion, though, so it’s clear that the bill hasn’t had a deleterious effect at this point.

The fact that India’s central bank has plans to introduce a government-sponsored cryptocurrency of their own cannot be separated from this bill, either. While the official government position is that blockchain is to be trusted while existing cryptocurrencies are eschewed and dismissed as “Ponzi schemes”, it’s clear that at least part of this bill is motivated by a desire to thin out the competition.

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