The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Online traders power up silver as GameStop retreats

Robinhood extends trading limits on the video game retailer, AMC, BlackBerry and five other shorted stocks

GameStop shares surged 400 percent in wild trading last week. (Tiffany Hagler-Geard/Bloomberg)
Placeholder while article actions load

Silver surged nearly 7 percent Monday as online investor communities adapted their GameStop playbook to the precious metal — a strategy that sent shorted companies soaring last week and battered the Wall Street hedge funds that had bet against those stocks.

GameStop sank 30.8 percent, to $225 a share, Monday even as the broader market advanced. The video game retailer’s stock popped 400 percent last week and has seen an 18-fold jump since December. Other shorted stocks that have attracted intense interest, including Nokia and BlackBerry, sank nearly 5 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

What you need to know about GameStop’s stock price chaos

U.S. stocks — which tumbled last week amid anxiety over the frenzied speculative trading that’s being cheered on by the Reddit forum WallStreetBets and other online communities — turned things around Monday. The Dow Jones industrial average added 229.29 points, or 0.8 percent, to close at 30,211.91. The S&P 500 gained 59.62 points, or nearly 1.6 percent, to settle at 3,773.86. The tech-heavy Nasdaq climbed 332.70 points, or 2.6 percent, to end the session at 13,403.39.

Big Tech helped spark that positive momentum. On Monday, Google and Ford announced a six-year partnership to develop technology for the automaker’s vehicles. Starting in 2023, Ford and Lincoln models at all price points will be equipped with Google apps and services, powered by Android. Google was also named as Ford’s go-to provider for cloud services. Shares in both companies jumped about 3 percent. Amazon grew 4 percent, Microsoft jumped 3 percent, and Apple gained nearly 2 percent. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Silver prices surged to an eight-year high on Feb. 1, becoming the latest target of a retail-trading frenzy that has set financial markets on edge. (Video: Reuters)

Silver became the big topic on investor forums, with enthusiasts asserting that the metal is undervalued and that heightened demand will drive up prices. Critics described the spike as a distraction and a financial trap.

Precious metals are safe-haven assets, especially in times of economic uncertainty and wild swings in the stock market, and are seen as a buffer against inflation and lower interest rates because they tend to be relatively stable and not easily dragged down by the fluctuation of other currencies.

Ed Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA, said silver’s rally is partly being driven by some retail investors who are looking to pivot as GameStop loses momentum.

“Everyone was scrambling to say, ‘Okay, well, if GameStop is pretty much done, what’s next?’” Moya said. “There was this belief that ‘wow, we can really cause a disruption here. If we can send our army of traders to buy silver coins because they wouldn’t be able to keep up with demand, it would have this domino effect on prices.’”

But some members of WallStreetBets tried to wave off investors from silver, arguing that the rally would only benefit hedge fund Citadel Advisors, which owns 6 million shares of the precious metal, Bloomberg reported. Citadel has come under scrutiny from Reddit investors, who accused the fund of pressuring brokerage firm Robinhood to limit GameStop trading during last week’s rally. Citadel and Robinhood spokespeople have denied that characterization.

Robinhood and Citadel’s relationship comes into focus as Washington vows to examine stock-market moves

It’s unclear how heavily the retail investor rebellion has affected institutional Wall Street. But after Melvin Capital Management, one of the original hedge funds that shorted GameStop, sank 30 percent after the retailer’s rally, separate funds Citadel and Point72 provided a $2.75 billion bailout.

Moya said it is not just Reddit users who are driving up silver. Hedge fund managers started jumping in last week, he said.

“Even if this retail frenzy ends, there’s still a belief that silver was going to go higher because of the reflation trade, because of the unprecedented global monetary fiscal stimulus efforts,” he said.

Robinhood, a popular trading platform, said in a blog post Monday that it had raised $2.4 billion from investors to help expand the business amid the burst in trading activity, bringing total funding since last week to $3.4 billion.

Ribbit Capital led the latest investment round, Robinhood said, with contributions from existing investors such as ICONIQ, Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia.

“This funding is a strong sign of confidence from investors and will help us build for the future and continue to serve people through the exponential growth we’ve seen this year,” the company said in the announcement.

Jason Warnick, Robinhood’s chief financial officer, said the new funding would help it scale up to meet high demand. “We are humbled by our customers’ response to our offering, and remain inspired by everyday people taking control of their financial futures.”

As of Monday afternoon, Robinhood had pared down its list of restricted stocks to eight: GameStop, AMC, BlackBerry, Koss, Express, Nokia, Genius Brands International and Naked Brand Group. The trading app was criticized by business leaders and lawmakers from both parties last week for its efforts to rein in dozens of stocks caught up in the trading frenzy.

Jeffrey Pontiff, a Boston College finance professor, said the fact that silver prices are surging but gold prices are not suggests that retail investors, such as those in the Reddit community r/WallStreetBets, are specifically targeting the commodity.

“Investors are going to bulletin boards, and they’re trying to convince people to kind of concentrate on stocks that have been beaten down, and in doing so noting that some of these stocks have high short positions,” he said. “To my eyes, it doesn’t look like silver is going up because it’s a safe haven.”

Experts have cautioned that the underlying financial dynamics in trading silver are different from those of GameStop, which partly relied on short sellers losing on their wagers as the price shot upward. Short sellers bet against an equity and stand to make money when its price falls. But if they get it wrong and the stock gains in value, short sellers have to cover their positions by buying it when it’s more expensive. They lose money in the process and sometimes drive the stock even higher, in what’s known as a short squeeze.

#GameStop and #silver are not the same for those pursuing the short squeeze trade,” wrote Allianz chief economic adviser Mohamed El-Erian in a tweet Monday. “The silver market is much larger; Existing shorts are smaller; Some of the #HedgeFunds that are short #GME are said to be long silver. Bottom line: A dissimilar trade that eats away at #GME gains.”

Pontiff said he’s waiting for GameStop’s value to eventually fall and drag down investors who bought in when share prices were high.

“If GameStop is a company that’s worth $1 billion, and it’s trading for $20 billion now, people are going to lose $19 billion,” he said. “The question is who?”

The GameStop stock frenzy has attracted so much media attention that talks are already underway to turn the Wall Street mania into a Hollywood drama. MGM has purchased the rights of a book proposal dubbed “The Antisocial Network” from best-selling author Ben Mezrich, Deadline reported Sunday. Mezrich’s 2009 book, “The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal,” was adapted into the movie “The Social Network.”