GameStop Is A Bubble In Its Purest Form
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GameStop Is A Bubble In Its Purest Form

It is tempting to see GameStop’s soaring stock as merely the result of clownish behaviour in a chat room. That would be a mistake.

By James Mackintosh
Thu, Jan 28, 2021 2:15amGrey Clock 4 min

GameStop is the platonic ideal of a stock bubble.

A combination of easy money, a real improvement in the company’s prospects, technical support from a short squeeze and a mad rush to get rich or die trying pushed stock in the retailer up 64-fold from late August to Wednesday’s close. Anyone who has held on for 10 days made gains of more than 10 times their money.

It is tempting to see GameStop as merely clownish behaviour in a chat room having some amusing effects on a stock few care about. That would be a mistake.

Sure, the wildly popular Reddit group Wall Street Bets—slogan: like 4chan found a Bloomberg terminal—is full of childish chat. Several users report that they have bet their parents’ pension fund on GameStop or that the boss’s daughter has bought in. There are plenty of calls for the stock to go to $1000 or more (it started the year at $18.84).

But GameStop’s soaring stock—and similar moves in BlackBerry, Nokia and others—is a bubble in microcosm, with lessons for those of us worrying about froth elsewhere in the market.

GameStop’s rise started with some genuine good news, just as bubbles always do. Ryan Cohen, who built up and sold online pet-food retailer Chewy, started building what is now a 13% stake for his RC Ventures in GameStop last year. He pushed for the staid mall-based seller of videogames to improve its internet sales. This month he joined the board.

Mr Cohen’s arrival means GameStop at least has a chance of joining the 21st century. From the first disclosure of his stock purchases in August up to the end of November the shares tripled, helped too by the improved prospects for the vaccine-driven reopening of the economy.

Along the way, some private investors latched on to the stock, helping its rise, and it became an item of discussion on Wall Street Bets, or r/WSB as it’s known.

This month the stock moved into the pure speculative phase, producing several daily jumps of 50% or more, and fundamentals were abandoned. Many cheerleaders on r/WSB stopped even making the pretense of arguments about Mr Cohen’s chances of turning the company around. Instead, there were two justifications for buying: wanting to get in on the price action to avoid being labelled, in the abusive parlance of the forum, a “retard” who missed gigantic profits, and the self-fulfilling prospect of hurting the large numbers of short-sellers.

As the late economist Charles Kindleberger put it: “There is nothing as disturbing to one’s well-being and judgment as to see a friend get rich. Unless it is to see a non-friend get rich.”

The scale of trading in GameStop shares is as extraordinary as the daily gains in price, suggesting widespread disturbance to people’s judgment. On Tuesday, $22 billion of shares changed hands, more than in Apple, the world’s largest company, and double GameStop’s market value. Adam Smith, the founder of economics, called speculative manias “overtrading,” and this is what they look like.

The hope of getting rich is only part of what’s inflating the bubble. Kindleberger argued that speculative manias needed innovative sources of financing, and the private traders on r/WSB have one: the shift last year to make trading in options free on Robinhood and several other platforms.

Options, like other derivatives, allow traders to use implied leverage to boost their bets, similar to borrowing money. In the same way that Japan’s bubble in the 1980s was fueled by cheap mortgages, and low Federal Reserve rates combined with collateralised debt obligations to support the housing bubble of the 2000s, the bubble in GameStop is aided by an increase in the money supply of private stock traders. Stimulus checks from the government can’t hurt, either.

Bubbles also frequently have support from technical factors that prevent the asset from being priced correctly. In the late 1990s, many dot-coms had a small float available, and none for short-sellers, making it hard or impossible for those who doubted the story to have their views expressed in the share price.

In GameStop, there are plenty of short-sellers, but they are making things even worse. The stock is caught in a vicious short squeeze. Short sellers had borrowed and sold more than 100% of the stock outstanding, as some was borrowed again. As the price rose, at least some of the hedge funds bought back shares to prevent further losses, so pushing the price up even further.

The most obvious parallel here is to K-Tel, the TV retailer of compilation tapes and the Veg-o-matic food processor, among other things. It announced in 1998 that it was moving online, prompting a jump in the shares that turned into an extraordinary short squeeze. K-Tel’s appropriately named public relations representative, Coffin Communications, gave this wonderful justification to the Washington Post: “Which do you think has more likelihood of success, a pure start-up that has never sold a product, or one like K-Tel that has been in business for 35 years?”

It turned out the answer was a pure startup, and K-Tel’s shares collapsed—but not before they had soared from $3.34 to more than $35 in under a month.

The difference with GameStop is that the r/WSB mob is actively engineering a short squeeze, discussing the pain they hoped to inflict on the short sellers and encouraging buyers not to cash in their profits.

Because there are so many shares that need to be repurchased by short-sellers, this offers an exit route for those who sell. But not everyone can do this, and those who are left holding the stock when demand eventually evaporates will watch the price plummet as it reverts back to something closer to what is justified by the company’s profit potential, just as K-Tel did.

Warren Buffett attributed to his mentor, Ben Graham, the line that “in the short run, the market is a voting machine—reflecting a voter-registration test that requires only money, not intelligence or emotional stability—but in the long run, the market is a weighing machine.”

The absence of emotional stability on r/WSB is obvious and has worked out beautifully for buyers of GameStop so far. But when the stock is weighed, many will be found wanting, as they always are in bubbles.



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A Killer Golf Swing Is a Hot Job Skill Now

Companies are eager to hire strong players who use hybrid work schedules to schmooze clients on the course

By CALLUM BORCHERS
Fri, Jun 14, 2024 5 min

Standout golfers who aren’t quite PGA Tour material now have somewhere else to play professionally: Corporate America.

People who can smash 300-yard drives and sink birdie putts are sought-after hires in finance, consulting, sales and other industries, recruiters say. In the hybrid work era, the business golf outing is back in a big way.

Executive recruiter Shawn Cole says he gets so many requests to find ace golfers that he records candidates’ handicaps, an index based on average number of strokes over par, in the information packets he submits to clients. Golf alone can’t get you a plum job, he says—but not playing could cost you one.

“I know a guy that literally flies around the world in a private jet loaded with French wine, and he golfs and lands hundred-million-dollar deals,” Cole says.

Tee times and networking sessions have long gone hand-in-golf-glove. Despite criticism that doing business on the course undermines diversity, equity and inclusion efforts—and the fact that golf clubs haven’t always been open to women and minorities —people who mix golf and work say the outings are one of the last reprieves from 30-minute calendar blocks

Stars like Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie West helped expand participation in the sport. Still, just 22% of golfers are nonwhite and 26% are women, according to the National Golf Foundation.

To lure more people, clubs have relaxed rules against mobile-phone use on the course, embracing white-collar professionals who want to entertain clients on the links without disconnecting from the office. It’s no longer taboo to check email from your cart or take a quick call at the halfway turn.

With so much other business conducted virtually, shaking hands on the green and schmoozing over clubhouse beers is now seen as making an extra effort, not slacking off.

Americans played a record 531 million rounds last year. Weekday play has nearly doubled since 2019, with much of the action during business hours , according to research by Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom .

“It would’ve been scandalous in 2019 to be having multiple meetings a week on the golf course,” Bloom says. “In 2024, if you’re producing results, no one’s going to see anything wrong with it.”

A financial adviser at a major Wall Street bank who competes on the amateur circuit told me he completes 90% of his tasks by 10 a.m. because he manages long-term investment plans that change infrequently. The rest of his workday often involves golfing with clients and prospects. He’s a member of a private club with a multiyear waiting list, and people jump at the chance to join him on a course they normally can’t access.

There is an art to bringing in business this way. He never initiates shoptalk, telling his playing partners the round is about having fun and getting to know each other. They can’t resist asking about investment strategies by the back nine, he says.

Work hard, play hard

Matt Parziale golfed professionally on minor-league tours for several years, but when his dream of making the big time ended, he had to get a regular job. He became a firefighter, like his dad.

A few years later he won one of the biggest amateur tournaments in the country, earning spots in the 2018 Masters and U.S. Open, where he tied for first among non-pros.

The brush with celebrity brought introductions to business types that Parziale, 35 years old, says he wouldn’t have met otherwise. One connection led to a job with a large insurance broker. In 2022 he jumped to Deland, Gibson Insurance Associates in Wellesley, Mass., which recognised his golf game as a tool to help win large accounts.

He rescheduled our interview because he was hosting clients at a private club on Cape Cod, and squeezed me in the next morning, before teeing off with a business group in Newport, R.I.

A short time ago, Parziale couldn’t imagine making a living this way. Now he’s the norm in elite amateur golf circles.

“I look around at the guys at the events I play, and they all have these jobs ,” he says.

His boss, Chief Executive Chip Gibson, says Parziale is good at bringing in business because he puts as much effort into building relationships as honing his game. A golf outing is merely an opportunity to build trust that can eventually lead to a deal, and it’s a misconception that people who golf during work hours don’t work hard, he says.

Barry Allison’s single-digit handicap is an asset in his role as a management consultant at Accenture , where he specialises in travel and hospitality. He splits time between Washington, D.C., and The Villages, Fla., a golf mecca that boasts more than 50 courses.

It can be hard to get to know people in distributed work environments, he says. Go golfing and you’ll learn a lot about someone’s temperament—especially after a bad shot.

“If you see a guy snap a club over his knee, you don’t know what he’s going to snap next,” Allison says.

Special access

On a recent afternoon I was a lunch guest at Brae Burn Country Club, a private enclave outside Boston that was the site of U.S. Golf Association championships won by legends like Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. I parked in the second lot because the first one was full—on a Wednesday.

My host was Cullen Onstott, managing director of the Onstott Group executive search firm and a former collegiate golfer at Fairfield University. He explained one reason companies prize excellent golfers is they can put well-practiced swings on autopilot and devote most of their attention to chitchat.

It’s hard to talk with potential customers about their needs and interests when you’re hunting for errant shots in the woods. It’s also challenging if you show off.

The first hole at Brae Burn is a 318-yard par 4 that slopes down, enabling big hitters like Onstott to reach the putting green in a single stroke. But to stay close to his playing partners and keep the conversation flowing, he sometimes hits a shorter shot.

Having an “in” at an exclusive club can make you a catch. Bo Burch, an executive recruiter in North Carolina, says clubs in his region tend to attract members according to their business sectors. One might be chock-full of real-estate investors while another has potential buyers of industrial manufacturing equipment.

Burch looks for candidates who are members of clubs that align with his clients’ industries, though he stresses that business acumen comes first when filling positions.

Tami McQueen, a former Division I tennis player and current chief marketing officer at Atlanta investment firm BIP Capital, signed up for private golf lessons this year. She had noticed colleagues were wearing polos with course logos and bringing their clubs to work. She wanted in.

McQueen joined business associates on the golf course for the first time in March at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. She has lowered her handicap to a respectable 26 and says her new skill lends a professional edge.

“To be able to say, ‘I can play with you and we can have those business meetings on the course’ definitely opens a lot more doors,” she says.

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11 ACRES ROAD, KELLYVILLE, NSW

This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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