A short squeeze frenzy driven by a new generation of gamers captured financial headlines in recent weeks, centered on a struggling strip mall video game store called GameStop. The Internet and a year off in this shut down to study up have given a younger generation of investors the tools to compete in the market. Gerald Celente calls it the “Youth Revolution.” A group of New York Young Republicans who protested in the snow on January 31 called it “Re-occupy Wall Street.” Others have called it Occupy Wall Street 2.0.
The populist uprising against Wall Street goes back farther, however, than to the 2010 Occupy movement. In the late 19th century, the country was suffering from a depression nearly as severe as the Great Depression of the 1930s. Kansas populist leader Mary Elizabeth Lease declared in a fiery speech in 1890:
Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street. The great common people of this country are slaves, and monopoly is the master.
Wall Street still owns the country. Millions of people have been forced out of work, while billionaires have doubled their money in the stock market. But a new generation of “retail” stock market traders is fighting back. (“Retail” traders are individuals trading for their own accounts as opposed to institutional investors.) Occupy Wall Street succeeded in raising awareness of the issues and putting a spotlight on the villains: the chief fault for the subprime crisis and 2008 crash was not with the defaulting homeowners but was with the banks. The Wall Street bankers, however, were not much fazed by the protests on the streets outside their windows. Not until January 2021 was Wall Street actually “occupied,” with millions of small traders landing a multibillion-dollar blow to at least a few of the mighty Wall Street hedge funds. GameStop was the most heavily shorted stock on the market, and the losing hedge funds were on the short end of the stick.
The Short Squeeze
“Short selling” works like this: an investor borrows shares from a broker middleman and immediately sells them, hoping to buy them back later at a lower price, return them to the broker, and pocket the difference. The trade, however, is quite risky. If the shorted stock keeps going up, the shorter’s potential loss is unlimited. “Covering” the short position by buying the shares at the higher price and returning them to the lender will result in a loss. But if the shorter fails to cover, the broker will eventually demand more collateral as protection against its own potential losses.