The GameStop frenzy in the stock market has subsided, or at least is no longer making headlines. The stock price in the struggling video game retailer remains too high for a corporation that hasn’t turned a profit in years and is unlikely to reverse that trend, but it is no longer escalating.
The mania’s postmortem will continue for some time. There will be congressional hearings and regulatory investigations. Congress may focus on whether the trading system treated individual investors and institutional investors evenhandedly. The regulators are looking for evidence of market manipulation in the online hyping of GameStop and other bedraggled stocks.
The popular perception — fueled by the populist rhetoric by champions of the stocks in the chatrooms of Reddit and YouTube — at the peak of the frenzy was that the small investors were sticking it to the Wall Street elite. The reality, it is becoming apparent, is that the biggest winners of the frenzy were ... the Wall Street elite.
Yes, the billion-dollar hedge funds that overbet on shorting GameStop took it in their own shorts at the end of January. And there’s no question that those who got in early on the stock — and got out at the peak — profited mightily.
But according to a lengthy Washington Post analysis this week, a goodly share of that latter group are the giant funds derided in the online forums. The Post found that some 39 percent of GameStop shares were held by the four largest asset managers on the planet, most of them long-term in index funds.
The Post also reported that GameStop shares — there are “only” 47 million of them — changed hands 554 million times in one three-day span, an incredible churn that suggests that the giant institutions had their hands on the steering wheel.
If the Redditors were truly out to blow up the hedge funds, they were doing it with a suicide bomb. GameStop was a bubble, and bubbles inevitably pop. When they do, investors, particularly the latecomers, get hurt. By the time GameStop was making headlines, it was already too late to get in.
That is one established truth borne out by the GameStop saga. Here is another: For individual investors, low-fee index funds have been, remain, and will continue to be the best option. Dull? Yes. Financial literacy is dull, but dull works.