What happened to GameStop’s stock at the end of January will be remembered by investors for years to come, as it was probably the first time in the history of the “free market” that a group of self-described internet “degenerates” outsmarted a bunch of Wall Street pros at their own game.
As a recap, on Jan 27, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell sharply by over 2% — in large part due to the United States Federal Reserve announcing its move to maintain interest rates around the zero percent mark — shares of video game retailer GameStop (GME) and movie theater chain AMC Entertainment (AMC) proceeded to rise by 130% and 300%, respectively, taking their market capitalizations to $24 billion and $6.74 billion.
This unprecedented surge was facilitated by a group of independent small-time traders operating out of a Reddit subreddit called r/Wallstreetbets. They were able to recognize that executives over at New York-based hedge fund Melvin Capital were shorting GameStop shares in order to net handsome profits for themselves.
In a nutshell, “shorting” is a practice used in stock market trading wherein an individual borrows shares only to sell them off immediately in hopes of buying them back once they fall in price. The person can then return these shares to the lender, netting the difference between the price at the time of borrowing and returning of the stock.
Upon seeing this window of opportunity, a large number of Redditors started to pump GME and AMC, among many others, resulting in prices shooting up by over 2,000% in a matter of several days. This caused Melvin Capital to incur substantial losses estimated to be worth billions of dollars.
In the past, there have been countless similar scenarios that have played out exactly like this, wherein billionaires have gone up against each other upon realizing that large-scale shorting action was at play. However, this time around, because a group of unnamed individuals was able to pull off such a move, financial services providers such as Robinhood and TD Ameritrade rediscovered their financial ethics and decided to help Wall Street cut down on its losses.
GME situation may serve as a game changer for crypto
With traditional stocks now being faced with cryptoesque pump and dumps in addition to traditional gatekeepers like Robinhood playing Big Brother under the pretext of “protecting their customers,” Cointelegraph reached out to Nikita Ovchinnik, chief business development officer for decentralized exchange aggregator 1inch. In his view, it’s important for people to understand that there is a big difference between traditional pump-and-dump schemes and what happened with GME, adding:
“Robinhood and other companies that prevented them from trading have set an outrageous precedent, one which hopefully will not be tolerated by authorities. Users should have access and full control over their assets and decisions at all times and DeFi is the only battle-tested solution on the market that can transparently solve this issue.”
Jason Lau, chief operating officer of cryptocurrency exchange OKCoin, said that he is glad this event is finally opening everyone’s eyes to the market manipulation that is rampant in today’s so-called free financial markets. “Crypto is an entirely free market, there are zero barriers to entry,” he added.
Lau also believes that incidents such as these are a case in point as to why brokers are bad for the financial ecosystem while also highlighting the need for more decentralization. Similarly, Vitalis Elkins, chief operating officer of Tradelize — a cryptocurrency trading platform — told Cointelegraph:
“Since 2020, M1 money supply increased by almost $3T. This is similar to the amount of money created since the global financial crisis of 2008, and yet it’s 40% of total M1 supply in circulation. [...] I believe that the GME phenomenon is not about 15-year-olds that are manipulating the market. It’s about a protest from the average investor and about the financial system that is exacerbating inequality and very close to exhausting the trust limit (of its users).”
Google and Apple come to rescue
As soon as Robinhood began to prevent amateur traders from taking a gamble on the pumping stocks, hundreds of thousands of disgruntled users decided to leave a one-star rating for the stock trading app on the Google Play store and Apple’s App Store. As a result, Robinhood’s rating proceeded to plummet to under one star almost overnight.
However, on Jan 29, it came to light that Google’s and Apple’s development teams had decided to step in to remove the negative reviews and complaints regarding Robinhood, with Google having previously stated that “Ratings and reviews meant to manipulate an app’s average rating or top reviews” violate its policies, thus effectively negating the opinions of its customers and sending the app’s rating back above the four-star range.
Following this, hoards of users once again decided to bombard Robinhood with one-star ratings, sending it to one star for the second time in just a few day’s time. However, it appears as though this time around, Google will not be coming to the app’s rescue. On Apple’s App Store, Robinhood currently has a four-star rating, but with the negative reviews flying in at a furious pace, that may soon change.
Is DeFi the way out of the confrontation?
One conclusion that the crypto community seems to agree on is that actions taken by service providers like Robinhood, Public and TD Ameritrade indicate that big money is reserved only for the elites and that the average person can't or shouldn't harbor hopes of amassing wealth, especially through the legacy financial system. Marie Tatibouet, chief marketing officer of cryptocurrency exchange Gate.io, told Cointelegraph that when it comes to decentralized finance:
“Everyone has the freedom to create financial instruments and create their own markets instead of being dependent on someone else managing it for them. Also, DeFi’s financial flexibility — no centralized limits to trades, liquidity, or influence on the market — presents an ideal platform for the financial world to grow without having to go through the usual potholes of manipulation and needless censorship.”
However, Charles Bovaird, vice president of content for advisory firm Quantum Economics, believes that while the recent developments involving GME and AMC have been very interesting to watch, they don’t put forth a strong enough argument for DeFi being the only way out of such situations in the future.
In his opinion, another solution — one that many in the crypto industry may not particularly like — could be the intervention of regulators. Bovaird pointed out that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently summoned the heads of several government entities, including the Federal Reserve and the Securities and Exchange Commission, to look into matters like market fairness and asset volatility, activities that may help curb similar episodes in the future. He added:
“Yes, the stock market has suffered from manipulation at some points. So has the cryptocurrency market. While the legacy system may very well die at some point, making way for a system that values decentralization and transparency, we have no timeline for such a development.”
In a somewhat similar line of thinking, Elkins also opined that while DeFi is an attempt to “fix” the legacy financial system, it isn't the only way out. He believes that as things stand, DeFi definitely cannot be considered a decent alternative to the traditional financial system that operates at the moment. However, he did concede that with the pace at which DeFi is evolving, there is hope that adoption use cases will appear in the future: “ETH 2.0 is coming and fee lowering can be a small step for mankind but a big step for DeFi.”
Gamestop debacle has helped put crypto in a good spot
While it still seems as though a large number of people have yet to entirely grasp the immensity of what crypto technology has to offer, a lot of causal investors are now beginning to ask questions about how Robinhood could even conceive of restricting its users in the first place.
This overarching theme of censorship and financial exclusion is a significant issue in traditional finance and will potentially serve for many as a gateway toward learning about crypto-enabled decentralized finance, according to Tatibouet:
“It's not enough to have custody of your assets now. Everyone should have access to the same financial tools that the elites have. The future is where finance is not owned by any government, hedge fund, or billionaire. This is possible with DeFi.”
Similarly, Ovchinnik believes that the GME case ultimately stands to assist the crypto industry, especially because it will help investors realize that it’s simply impossible for anyone to stop trades from taking place on decentralized exchanges.
That being said, he did state that from a purely user-experience standpoint, blockchain applications might still be too complex for many new users to get a grasp on immediately. “It would take at least a couple of years for the current protocols to evolve,” he added.