By now you’ve probably heard plenty about WallStreetBets (WSB), the Reddit online community that’s been spurring wild trading of beaten-down stocks like GameStop (GME), whose price surged from $17.69 on January 8 to $347.51 on January 27. WSB member Keith Gill seems to have sparked that 1800% gain after posting about his successes trading the video game retailer’s stock, with screenshots from his brokerage account showing millions in gains, and losses.
WSB has spread like wildfire, with its counter-culture vibe and the prospect of quick riches generating a huge fear of missing out. Of the 6.3 million subscribers to WallStreetBets, half joined just since last Wednesday.
Apparently, most WSB members aren’t buying stock. Instead, they’re buying options on stocks that large hedge funds have shorted, with forum members aiming to profit at the expense of the “big guys.” (Mark had a succinct explanation of this risky type of trading in his Dynamic Asset Allocation update last Friday.)
The WSB group walks with plenty of “Okay, Boomer” swagger, seemingly just as intent on thumbing its nose at Wall Street as it is on making money. Jaime Rogozinski, the founder of WallStreetBets, was asked by CNN about all of this potentially ending badly for inexperienced traders who have piled into the GME bet. With a dismissive laugh, he said, “This whole ‘bubble popping’ is a Boomer mentality. What does a ‘bubble’ mean? It’s just this idea that stocks are going to change direction. You know what’s going to happen when this, quote, ‘bubble pops’? In other words, when the stock starts falling? These people are going to switch to buying puts, which is a bet that the price is going to go down. They’re going to make money on the way back down as well.”
Not surprisingly, it already has ended badly for some who tried to join the party. CNN profiled “Omar,” who used options trading to turn $6,000 into $15,000 and then lost it all. Then he did it again, scrounging up $22,000 from student loans, a stimulus check, and money he earned tutoring, only to lose all of that money, too.
How large will this “movement” grow and how far will it spread? No one knows for sure. Today brought news that WallStreetBets may have something to do with a recent surge in silver.
At the risk of showing my age, here are a few thoughts about all this.
Should you be concerned?
So far, WSB’s outsize trading has been limited to small segments of the market and even smaller segments of funds held by SMI investors. For example, VXF, the extended market fund used in Just-the-Basics, holds shares of GME and AMC, but each one accounts for just 0.01% of the fund’s $14.2 billion in assets.
In Fund Upgrading, neither of the recommended Russell 2000 funds, IWO and IWF, have any exposure to those stocks. DBC, the situational commodities fund currently recommended for use with Fund Upgrading, has about 3.3% of its $1.4 billion in assets in silver futures.
When you think about what percentage of each fund’s assets your investment amounts to, and what percentage of each fund’s assets are invested in the stocks in question, any WSB-induced volatility in those stocks is unlikely to have any meaningful impact on your portfolio. Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Zweig (paywall) said the same is true for most long-term, diversified investors: “This latest upheaval will likely have a bigger impact on investors’ attention than on their portfolios.”
Zweig views the WallStreetBets phenomenon not as some new shock to the system, but as part of a trend set in motion five decades ago by Vanguard Founder Jack Bogle: the democratization of the stock market.
While Zweig thinks this is unlikely to disrupt markets overall, he added, “Still, this is a remarkable moment.”
For the most part, lower costs have democratized the stock market. Indeed, commissions have all but disappeared. But there’s more. Now there’s fractional share trading, which has lowered the minimum required investment amount to $1! And there are apps that have made trading simpler, more engaging, more enjoyable.
Some worry that it’s all turned the stock market into a video game. But I liken it to what happened with budgeting. For many years, all suggestions about the wisdom of using a budget were met with groans and eye rolls. But then something very unexpected happened. Budgeting apps like Mint emerged and they made budgeting something very close to cool. In fact, when I ask workshop participants how many people use a budget, very few hands go up. But when I ask how many people use Mint, a lot of hands go up.
If brokerage apps are making investing more interesting and easier, that could be a good thing. Some people worry that with less “friction” (commissions and minimum required investment amounts), people will be reckless. To be sure, some will. But for those who understand investing, the advent of commission-free and fractional share trading are welcome developments.
Besides, for Christ-followers, there should always be a healthy level of friction in our financial decisions. I was reminded of that through a recent conversation I had with our three children.
The helpful friction of financial stewardship
We’ve made a few changes to our kids’ accounts over the last couple of months, switching from Schwab to Fidelity (to take advantage of fractional share trading!) and opening Roth IRA accounts for each one since they had some earned income last year. As I went over their investments with them, I decided to talk with them individually instead of as a group. More and more, I want them to take ownership of their decisions and not allow group-think to take over.
In talking with our youngest, who’s 12, I was surprised at the hesitation I felt when we talked about what she’s investing in. I thought about that for several days afterward. Why did I feel so much weight in the decisions we were discussing?
Apparently, there was something about how young she is that gave me pause. I felt the need to be especially careful in the advice I was giving because I still felt mostly responsible and I didn’t want to steer her in any way that could harm the returns on her money.
That experience made me realize that I should feel that way more often. I should spend more time reflecting on the fact that I’m managing God’s money. I should feel the weight of that more often. It’s the friction we should all feel, especially in the commission-free world we’re living in.
I can’t begin to tell how heartening it was to read through the results of the recent survey we sent to our readers (full results coming in about three weeks). When we asked what helped you get through last year’s brutal 35% sell-off from mid-February to mid-March, 97% of you said, “Having faith that God would provide, no matter what happened in the market.” And when asked about any particular verses of Scripture that helped, 550 people named over 70 verses.
Reading through those verses vividly brought to mind a community of investors who have an incredible maturity of faith, people who clearly live by the Truths that, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28), the Lord is “my refuge and my fortress” (Psalm 91:2), and “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7).
Such a community is unlikely to ever catch the attention of the Wall Street Journal, but it has incredible power.
It’s tempting to worry that the WallStreetBets phenomenon is turning investing into a reality TV show. And it’s tempting to be discouraged that the millions of people being drawn to the WSB forum means our consumer culture is winning — that today’s young people are growing up thinking of investing as gambling.
But I’m not worried and I’m not discouraged. Instead, I’m renewed in my passion for discipleship.
I’m very thankful to be viewing today’s events through the filter of several recent discipleship experiences I’ve been through — a wonderful course developed by the financial ministry, Compass–Finances God’s Way, called One More; an excellent new book called Financial Discipleship, written by Compass European Director Peter Briscoe; and a sermon at our church called "One at a Time."
All three reminded me that Jesus changed the world one person at a time. He poured into His disciples and they, in turn, were sent out to pour into others.
What’s my take-away from the WallStreetBets phenomenon? It has reminded me that I’m a disciple. That means I’m to continue learning from my Teacher, reading, meditating on, and living out His Word. And that means I’m to go and make other disciples, pouring into people one at a time and encouraging them to then go and do likewise.
Financially, just think of what could happen if the only fear of missing out we lived with is that we might miss an opportunity to teach one more person a biblical approach to managing money.