/r/WallStreetBets is trying something unprecedented in history — and the media’s not reporting on it at all.
(No, this isn’t a clickbait title. The unprecedented part is technically interesting and legit can’t be compressed into a headline.)
First, some background. If you’ve been following mainstream media coverage of /r/WallStreetBets and the wildly swinging Gamestop stock, you may not be aware that /r/WallStreetBets has a Plan at all beyond “Let’s all buy the stock to pump it up, making all of us rich.”
But /r/WallStreetBets has a Plan — a Plan which doesn’t rely on there being a greater fool to buy at a higher price. I was quite surprised, when I first looked into the affair yesterday — surprised enough that I ended up writing this article despite having no specialist expertise or credentials. No, I’m not buying or selling Gamestop, and I won’t be recommending that you do so. I’m writing this because a certain feature of the affair is one I find interesting. On my home planet it would be front-page news, but the media here has other priorities; it hasn’t reported at all the interesting part, anywhere that I’ve read.
So what’s this Plan about? Roughly, it’s to engineer a short squeeze on Gamestop, but with a historically unprecedented twist. No, I can’t just tell you the twist right this minute and stop wasting your time. It legitimately takes some background to explain, unless you’re starting out understanding more than I did. In principle, one could deduce it just from having heard “/r/WallStreetBets has a plan to engineer a short squeeze on Gamestop”; but I had to be walked through several steps myself before I realized.
First, the basics of how a “short squeeze” happens. Yeah, I also thought, going in, that I already understood that; but there were some key details I was missing.
Sometimes, when you think you’re holding a stock in your account — say, GlomCo stock, for the sake of concreteness — your broker isn’t really holding all the shares of that stock. What your broker did instead, was charge somebody else to borrow some of the GlomCo shares it’s theoretically holding on behalf of end-consumers like you; then the borrower sells the GlomCo stock with intent to buy it back later and repay the loan. Key detail: whoever buys this stock may then have their broker quietly loan it out again in turn, behind the scenes.